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Help with Habits

By Dan Vis
January 07, 2019
Comments: 8

This year, ROCKET tackles the subject of habits from a radically different perspective. But I didn't want to throw out last year's information as it was helpful. So here it is: as a Monday Memo!

Human nature seems to like setting goals for the New Year. There's something about the possibilities of a clean slate that makes us aspire to do better. And more often than not, those goals tend to revolve around habits. More of this, less of that, make some change to better ourself. Resolves like this can be helpful, but there's a problem...

Changing Habits is Hard!

Actually, most goals involve some work. If they were easy to do, we would have done them already!

But habit goals are especially tough, because they require a change in our normal way of doing things. And human nature is also resistant to change. Furthermore, habits don't usually come with an expiration date. They are things we want to start doing, or stop doing, indefinitely. Other kinds of goals are done as soon as you complete them. You can move right on to the next project, and put the one you finished right out of your mind.

Not so with habits.

And the idea that it only takes 21 days to build a habit is largely a myth. Research suggests most significant changes take 60-90 days to become habitual. You've got to really stick with it, for it to work.

And even then, depending on the habit you are talking about, you can't just rely on autopilot afterwards. Good habits are far easier to break than they are to build. And bad habits are quick to come back if you are not careful!

“If you want to build a lasting habit, you are going to have to work at it.”

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If you want to build a lasting habit, you are going to have to work at it.

Habits are Important

But habits are super important. These are the routines that make up our life, and to a large extent determine how life turns out. Good habits lead to success. Bad habits, well, don't. So learning how to change them is an important skill.

They are also often critical to accomplishing other kinds of goals. Suppose your target is to lose 20 pounds. To reach that, you will probably need to start up an exercise habit or stop a midnight snack habit. You might be able to reach it by sheer dieting willpower, but without a change in lifestyle, those pounds are likely to come right back. If your goal is to learn how to play guitar, a habit of regular practice is vital. If your goal is to grow your business by 10%, you would do well to evaluate your business processes, and identify some habit that contributes to growth.

The fact is, we can't really control the outcomes, we only control the input. You may or may not succeed in losing 20 pounds, learning to play a guitar well, or growing your business. Those are all outcomes. And there may be circumstances beyond your control that get in your way. But you can control your input: exercising, practicing the guitar, or making those sales calls. And if we keep our focus squarely on the habits, we'll be far more likely to achieve the desired result.

Or to put it differently, big goals usually require new habits. Suppose after browsing around the FAST site, you feel convicted about the need to memorize more Scripture. So you set a goal to memorize 100 new verses in the new year. A great goal! While it sounds like a one-time objective, to get there will probably require several steps. If you were to list them, your steps might include:

  • Take a class on how to memorize
  • Familiarize myself with the Engine
  • Memorize two verses every week
  • Check in daily to review my verses

The first two can be completed and checked off. The latter two are habits you need to start and stick with. If you complete the first two and stay consistent at the last two, you will likely succeed. Taking the course alone will not do it, if you don't also build the accompanying habits. Simply committing to 100 verses without at least some information about how to review new verses systematically, could well turn out to be an exercise in frustration. There are some basic principles you just have to understand. The recipe for success is combining the right plan with the right habits!

“The recipe for success is combining the right plan with the right habits!”

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The Three R's

Since we're talking about memorization, let me mention briefly our Breakout Challenge. It's a 30 day course that covers all aspects of memorization that has helped hundreds memorize better. One of the things I emphasize in that course is the importance of, you guessed it, habits. In particular I suggest there are three critical keys to building a new habit:

1) The Reminder
Choose a trigger. In the case of memorization it might mean putting your verses on your desk before you go to bed at night, so you see them when you wake up. Or it may be linking memorization with breakfast. "No Bible, no breakfast" is a motto that has helped a lot of good memorizers. Figure out something that works for you. Find a trigger for the habit you want to build.

2) The Routine
Follow the same series of steps each time. In the Breakout Challenge I taught a 4-step process for memorization and encouraged participants to practice it faithfully every day. Following the same routine exactly helps to gradually imprint that pattern in the neurons of our brain. But it only does that imprinting if you follow the same pattern consistently.

3) The Reward
This is actually part of what establishes the habit. Neurochemicals are released in the brain when we do something pleasurable, and over time the brain associates that reward with the action. Soon the brain starts working automatically to get us to repeat that behavior over and over. When it's a negative action, we call it an addiction. But it works the same way with positive habits too. Put a dollar in your piggy bank for every verse you learn--to spend on something special. A hundred bucks is a small price to pay for 100 choice memorized verses!

The Jumbo Habit Buster

Forming habits is fairly simple as long as you remember the 3 R's: the reminder, the routine, and the reward. Develop a plan that incorporates all three and you are well on your way to change. And the longer you maintain the habit, the easier it is to keep it going.

But while it's relatively easy to keep established habits going, it's always easier to bust them. (At least good habits!) All it takes is one thing: skipping now and then. Don't let it happen! If you want to ensure success, you just need to follow one basic rule: never allow an exception. Slipping up even once or twice can undo weeks of effort and bring old habits roaring back to life in an instant.

Missing even once--it's what I call the jumbo habit buster! Don't do it...

If you do happen to slip, don't look back. Get right back up immediately, and get going again. Maybe your habit won't notice.

Plan of Action

So there you have it. A simple straightforward plan of action. Identify one clear habit you want to build, plan a reminder, routine, and reward, and then stick to your plan--without exception. In time, the habit will start getting easier, bit by bit.

Once you have established your new habit, you can turn your focus to something new. But keep an eye on the habits you've already built. If you find yourself slipping, go back to your plan and reimplement it as quick as you can. The more momentum you lose the more effort it will take to regain it.

Follow these basic guidelines, ask God to help you, and give it your best. You'll be sure to see success!

Take the Next Step

Want to learn more about life planning and goal setting? Join us for ROCKET, and blast off to new heights in your spiritual life. This 10-day challenge will teach you how to discover and achieve your most important goals. Make the coming year your best year yet!

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How important are good habits? How destructive can bad habits be? What aspects of this simple little plan most stand out to you? What have you found helpful in changing habits? Share a thought below...

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Posted by Dan Vis on 01/09/19
Very glad to have you here Dinah! And good point about habits leading to character, the only thing we can take with us from this world. And thrilled to hear your commitment! If there's anything we can do to help, let us know. :)

Good habits => Abundant life. Sums it up pretty well Carole.

So glad to hear Kim. Try applying these principles to one specific habit first and see how it goes. Soon you'll be applying it to even more and more... :)
Posted by Kim on 01/09/19
This message was very helpful to me and gives me the boost I need right now. Thank you, Dan
Posted by Carole Bliss on 01/07/19
Good habits make for a more rewarding life. All benefit by it. We are then in line with God. HE wants us to have an abundant life we can serve Him better.
Posted by Dinah Robles on 01/07/19
What a great blessing to avail of the resources that’s before us. Yes, habits - the right ones are what becomes the character — the only thing that stays with us for eternity. By God’s grace I choose to participate in honing my skills to hide God’s words in my heart until it becomes natural & part of my daily life. Thank you Pastor Dan for sharing. We are truly blessed.
Posted by Dan Vis on 01/07/19
Thank you Anita! I really appreciate everyone's encouragement. It helps keep me going around here. :)
Posted by Anita Compton on 01/07/19
I couldn’t agree more with Diane’s comments! I too have experienced the same blessings! May God help us to be victorious in our challenges in 2019 and beyond!
Posted by Dan Vis on 01/07/19
Thanks Diane, for your kind words. :) It's been great having you in our classes. All the best, wishing you an amazing 2019!
Posted by Diane Burnett on 01/07/19
This was an excellent summarization of how to build good habits! I encourage everyone to take the breakout memory challenge course to learn and practice the principles mentioned here but in detail. It is life-changing. Doing the memory program has impacted every other area of my life: my exercise routine, my family interactions, my devotional life, my social interactions, to name a few. Now ROCKET, another huge challenge, is putting all the benefits into focus to have a life filled with God-given purpose. Work through the frustrations and challenge! It allows God to do above what we can ask or think!

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