The Habit Trap

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It can be a challenge to handle the changes that happen to us, but most of us also have to deal with the changes we ourselves need to make. And let's not kid ourselves, shifting our own mindset and convincing ourselves that we need to do something differently can be stressful. We all have habits and conditioned behaviors that are not beneficial - we need to change. We have unhealthy habits or thought patterns or attitudes that entrap us in a cycle  - we need to change.

Like most people, I have a long list of habits and autopilot type responses in my everyday world, and not nearly all of them are good for me. In fact, I'd have to admit that at least a couple of those bad habits entrap me from time to time.

Okay, I've admitted I have a habit I need to change. Now what? My recent reading of Atomic Habits by James Clear was very helpful. His claims are that we can make small incremental changes that add up to big results, and that we can strategically change our environments and reward systems to move us towards the positive habits and away from the negative. By planning ahead we can make the habits we want to do more automatic. 

Strategies to break the bad habit traps:

Set goals based on my identity. Decide who I am and who I want to become, and let that inform what I will do in order to become that person. I want to be someone that practices hospitality and is comfortable welcoming guests into my home. One of the things I can do to make that a reality is set up the house so that it's ready for company at all times. That drives smaller decisions too - should I leave stuff piled up on my kitchen counters "until later" or should I spend a couple minutes looking after it right now? Ouch. Stop procrastinating.

Make it easy and obvious to do the good habits, difficult to do the unhealthy habits I want to break. So the idea here is to plan your surroundings, or to piggyback a good habit onto something you already do. If you want to write in your journal every evening, put the journal on your bedside table so it's handy. If you want to stop snacking on cookies, store the cookies in a cupboard that's hard for you to reach (or just just don't buy cookies!) A number of years ago I decided it was time to stop drinking soda. I quit drinking soda almost entirely, and it only took a few weeks to break the habit. I just didn't buy soda at the grocery store. More recently, I started making sure I had a water bottle handy all the time and that it was filled up. When I have it handy, it's a lot easier to drink all the water I should. That same idea can be used for almost every habit, although for some you need to be creative! I'm actually trying to come up with a way to make it easier to exercise consistently. Hmm.

Reward yourself! This is probably the step I need to help me establish the exercise habit! Long term goals are good, and provide the motivation to make the plans, but as Clear points out in the book, the day-to-day work is hard to stick with unless there's something rewarding about it now. Again, he suggests pairing the developing habit with something you already do, especially if it's something you like doing. Your mind will start to associate the new habit with the positive feelings about the treat. Obviously, eating a cookie after working out isn't the right way to do that, but listening to a favorite podcast while I walk might be. I've been participating in The Conqueror Challenges for awhile now, and it really is rewarding to log my daily steps or exercise into the app - the daily reward is the satisfaction of seeing where I am in the virtual road I'm hiking (I'm on the Cabot Trail in Nova Scotia these days), and there's a medal to earn at the end of each challenge. 

Even the changes that we know we need to make - changes that will be for our own good - can be hard and frustrating work, especially if we feel trapped in our bad habits or a discouraged attitude. Ask God for help to retrain your mind and to help you be self-disciplined. Use the knowledge and insights he gives to help you on the way, and remember to give him the praise and glory for every victory!

Don't you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing. ~I Corinthians 9:24-26

Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. ~Philippians 3:13-14

How can you change your habits for the better?

For the Write 28 Days Blogging Challenge, I've decided to explore the theme of living well and with purpose during times of change. A few years ago, as I neared the end of my years as a homeschool mom, I realized my world would change when my youngest graduated. My roles in the homeschool community and in my social circles were affected. Things changed in the workplace. Things are ever changing at church. And as my children grew up and the nest has begun to empty, family dynamics are changing. To our surprise, my husband's job ended at the very beginning of 2022, and that has brought another round of changes to consider! I know very well that writing about coping with change is not the same as having all the answers. I'll do my best to share what I'm learning and experiencing, and I'd love to hear from others in the comments.

This post is part of the Write 28 Days Blogging Challenge hosted by Anita Ojeda. Find all my posts for the 2022 challenge here: 28 Days of Coping With Change

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