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Change is hard in any area of life – jobs, relationships, homes. Anything. But one of the hardest in my opinion is changing habits! Because that means changing myself.
I don’t know about you, but I thought that I’d get better at life and faith as I got older. I’m in my 50s now and still waiting! I need to change habits in my writing, my eating, my reading, my studying, my exercising, and more.
What habits do you want to change? Watching too much TV? Not reading enough? Eating too many donuts? Yelling at your kids? Missing church? Not praying? The list could go on and on – for you and for me.
We all have habits we don’t like, that we wish would magically go away. But they won’t – there is no genie in a lamp to help us in changing habits. I remind myself of this frequently and try to change habits I don’t like. Sometimes I succeed, but sometimes I don’t.
The times I don’t succeed are with those habits I most need to change: the wrong food choices, the timewasters, the faith-draining instead of faith-building habits.
So, I’ve taken action. This is not an “Aha!” moment – it’s a “time to get serious” moment. I’ve made myself a habit tracker. It’s not magic, but it is a tool to help me get serious with myself.
Changing Habits with a Habit Tracker
I’ve seen dozens of habit trackers online. I’ll be honest with you – many of them are intimidating. Almost all are one month or longer. Frankly, I know myself pretty well, and sticking out one month of changing habits without a reward somewhere in the middle would doom me!
So, I created my own habit tracker. Actually – I created three. The first is for just 10 days, the second for 20 days, and the third for a full 30 days. Thirty days (and longer) is my goal. But if I need to use the 10-day tracker several times in a row, I’m OK with that. It’ll get me over the resistance I know I’ll feel to changing habits and patterns of behavior.
Changing Habits Starts Now
As I write this, it is a Wednesday near the end of September. But, even though it’s not a Monday, it’s not January 1st, and it’s not even the first of any month, I’m starting my habit tracker now.
Because, honestly, there is never a good time to change. There will always be a reason to put change off until tomorrow or next week or next month. It won’t be any easier later. I’ll just be further down the road I don’t want to be on. The same is true for you.
Whenever you decide to start changing habits that are hurting you instead of helping you, it’ll be hard. It’ll be hard today or next week or next year or even 10 years from now. Starting today means you’re one day closer to being who you want to be.
What the Bible Says About Habits
The Bible doesn’t say much about habits – but it says a lot about discipline. Discipline – both in Scripture and in life – can be external or internal. If you’re a parent, you are well acquainted with this idea. Parents discipline their children because children need to learn acceptable behavior. But the goal of discipline is that each child with learn to control his behavior for and by himself.
We know, as adults, that this is an ongoing process. We continue to learn and apply discipline to our lives as we grow and change.
Changing habits is one way we apply discipline to ourselves. No-one is going to make you or me stop eating cookies, spending too much money, watching TV for 8 hours a day, wasting time on social media, or letting dust gather on our Bible. You and I are adults; we are responsible for our own lives, our own choices, our own discipline.
I have plenty of excuses why someone else is at fault for one thing or another – but they’re all just lies I tell myself to let myself off the hook. Yes, it is true that I’ve had a crazy, roller-coaster marriage, but it’s still not true that my husband is the reason I’m overweight. He did not force-feed me.
Yes, it is true I had a busy life raising my sons, doing home daycare, saving my marriage, and serving in the church. But it’s not true that I postponed following my dream of being an author for those reasons. I chose to use my precious little free time on worthless pursuits like TV. Ask me now if I remember any of the shows I “just had to watch” back then.
Yes, it is true that life is still busy as an empty nester. But I’m still responsible for making choices now – choices that will come from a place of discipline or self-indulgence. I can say, “I’ll do it tomorrow” – but even if I do, I’m one more day behind on changing my habits and my life.
Discipline is always about choices I make. Choices you make.
Verses on Discipline
Here are just a few verses that deal with this topic:
- Listen to counsel and accept discipline, that you may be wise the rest of your days. Proverbs 19:20
- Apply your heart to discipline and your ears to words of knowledge. Proverbs 23:12
- Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified. 1 Corinthians 9:24-27
- For even though I am absent in body, nevertheless I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good discipline and the stability of your faith in Christ. Colossians 2:5
- On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. 1 Timothy 4:7b-8
- All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. Hebrews 12:11
Self-control is another Biblical term that can teach us about God’s view on changing habits. Below are two key passages that speak of self-control.
- But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh… But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Galatians 5:16, 22-24
- For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Peter 1:5-8
One Last Thing: Prayer
As I said earlier, I needed something I could use to track my habits, to help me change my habits, that had a shorter timeframe. I told myself I could do 10 days. Now, 10 days of a new habit is not enough to make it stick.
But I’m not planning on stopping there – which is why I also made the 20-day and 30-day trackers. But 10 days is where I’m starting. After 10 successful days, I’ll reward myself and then keep going. I’ll work up to 20 days, and then 30, and then 60 or 100.
But, along with tracking my successful days, and starting over when I fail, I’m also adding “one last thing.” Prayer. Actually, prayer is the first thing. Without prayer and relying on God’s strength to make changes, I’ll fail. Prayer is first, middle, and last. Prayer is the pipeline to my Source of self-control and discipline.
I need to be changing habits in my life for myself and for my family. However, the most important reason to be changing habits is for the Lord. He wants me to have a full, abundant life (John 10:10). That means growing and changing. He wants me to rest in Him and trust in Him (John 15:5). He wants me to live in freedom (John 8:36; Galatians 5:1). He wants more for me than I’ll ever know (Ephesians 3:14-21).
So, I’ll pray, I’ll track my behavior, I’ll rely on His strength. Then I’ll do it all again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next. A habit tracker is a tool, nothing more or less. If I ever start focusing on it instead of on Christ, the habit tracker will have to go.