Week 11 • Day 1 • I Can Will It, But I Can’t Do It

Subscribe to the Podcast: Apple PodcastsSpotify

“For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

Hebrews 12:1

When I’m struggling to get my stuff together, it’s a sign I’m lacking discipline. If I’m lacking discipline, it’s often because I’ve developed negative habits.

There are several authors who go in-depth about habits, how they form in the brain making them so hard to stop, and ultimately, how to break them. Several works by Dr. Carolyn Leaf are phenomenal, based in scripture, and I highly recommend her books for anyone struggling to break destructive mental habits or patterns.

But we don’t have to wait to pick up one of her books, we can get started right now. Indulge me while I try to break down the deeply complex topic of habits into a pint-sized devo you can chew on.

A bad habit, at least that’s how I’m defining it for our purposes, is an unhealthy coping mechanism to deal with fear, worry and anxiety.

When we feel the discomfort and pain, we will default to a particular vice that gives us temporary relief – even if that vice may cause us permanent suffering down the road.

Our brains have an amazing adaptive quality called neuroplasticity. Your brain forms neuronal connections based on what you do repeatedly in your life — both good and bad. When we do the same unhealthy coping mechanism over and over, our brain makes a connection. When she’s stressed, eat sugar. When she’s worried, bite your nails. When she has anxiety, pour a huge glass of wine. When she feels inadequate, start gossiping.

You catch my drift.

And our brains are so efficient, most of the time we aren’t even aware it’s happening. Remember the first time you backed out of a driveway when you were learning to drive? You were all nervous, checking all the mirrors, hitting the gas pedal, slamming on the break. Now, you’ve done it so many times, your brain, in an effort to not overload you by becoming extremely efficient, helps you back the car out the driveway without you barely even noticing it. Ever got home from work like, “Uh, how did I get here?”

Your subconscious drove you home. That’s neuroplasticity.

And thanks to neuroplasticity, we can get home, but we can’t seem to get our stuff together!!

So how do we stop a bad habit? It starts with the renewal of your mind. Romans 12:2 says, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

We’ve talked about renewal in the beginning of our series, and it’s worth revisiting again. And again. And again. The renewal of your mind is a conscious choice to see things differently through God’s lens of unconditional love, our belief and faith in His love and provision, and not through the human lens of fear. As a result, we begin to behave differently. Our repetitive actions lead to our brain creating new habits and behaviors that lead us to joy and bring us life, rather than habits that inevitably bring us shame, sadness and depression.

As a result, you raise your standards in various areas of your life so that you can live a life of joy, excellence, freedom and integrity – rather than a life enslaved to bad habits and low standards.

For this to be your reality, you have to actively and consistently commit to replacing dysfunctional destructive habits for functional, life giving habits. We do this to experience God’s gifts and blessings to the full- to share our gifts and blessings with others.

In other words, getting our stuff together should be our highest priority and friend, we better not mess around.

So, how do we create a new, life giving habit?

With a new, life giving vision.

All of our bad habits are doing something for us, or we wouldn’t do them. They are meeting an internal need. We have to get to the root of that need and make sure it is met the right way.

Let me give you a most recent example that’s helped me.

I’ve shared that I often feel overwhelmed with work and motherhood. I mean, who doesn’t? I worried about things I couldn’t control.

To remedy and squelch those negative feelings, I began to bake treats. Now, nothing is wrong with baking. Baking is a joyous creative outlet. But if your other dysfunctional coping mechanism is to binge on carbs when you’re stressed, I was essentially creating a bad habit that fed directly into my other bad habit. Once my pajama pants got tight, I went into crisis mode.

I knew I needed a new vision, and quickly, because tight pajamas are rock bottom. So, after some prayer and contemplation, I felt a desire to create a garden. Now, when I feel overwhelmed or like I need more time to myself to recharge, instead of baking and eating half a batch of cookie dough, I go out into my garden. I’m about to sound corny, and I make no apologies: I feel so at peace when I’m in nature, the joy and contentment I get tending to and growing vegetables, far surpasses the bloating, shame and regret I feel after binging on desserts.

Studies have shown that gardening has massive emotional and psychological benefits and I’d add – endless spiritual benefits. I feel so close and in awe of God when I’m working my hands in the soil. So, when I felt that negative, overwhelmed feeling, I made a choice to put on my shoes and check on my garden. I have done it now so often, the minute I’m triggered, I just head out. I even long for it.

But let’s be real. Is it the garden I’m longing for?

Or am I really longing for God?

This has been vital for me—creating a new vision that feels so peaceful, so good, so dreamy, I get excited to replace it with any bad habit I’m currently using to meet my need. I really have to lean on God constantly to get started, but once I get into a rhythm, and I’m so handsomely rewarded, my new vision eventually becomes a new habit.

Of course, life will throw us a curveball, that’s what it does. But even if we get off course, we’ll now know the way home.

My standard for my life must rise to God’s best, if I want God’s best for my life.

Here’s where to start: Figure out what need/want/pain/discomfort that bad habit is temporarily relieving.

Then dream up a new vision that meets that same need or relieves that same discomfort, but in a good, healthy, life giving way.

Ask God for help. For a vision. For his fruit of the spirit, self-control.

Ask for a miracle.

Then act out your new vision every time you’re triggered, consistently, until your brain makes your vision, a habit. A new habit will naturally become an unshakable higher standard.

It really is that simple. It’s not easy – but it’s very simple.

So here’s your challenge for this week:

Identify any dysfunctional habits or coping mechanisms that are preventing you from getting it together.

Then, begin to replace your new visions with your old habits. It will be hard. You’ll need God’s help. Speak to him. Go to him. Depend on him. Trust him.

Lay your brick.