Habits form our character but our core beliefs form our habits.
No one needs to name and shame the bad habits in your life. You are keenly aware of it. Whether the crime is indulging in time wasters like binge series watching and mindless social media surfing, to more serious choices like staying in toxic relationships, you know what’s tripping you up in life.
You might want to protest that if you knew how to do better, you would. But the heart of the matter is - do you really want to do better? We all know that we need to exercise, eat healthy, increase our levels of focus to improve our productivity, etc etc.
The way that we make the switch from bad behavior to good behavior has more to do with a heart change than a head change. At the root of every bad habit is a high level of tolerance for the thing we know needs to change if we want to get the life we really desire.
Our motivation to reach for the things we really want is often thwarted by a lack of belief that we deserve the things that we know will give us a better quality of life.
We don’t know what the true cost of our bad habits are because we haven’t yet begun to taste what the opposite actions in our lives could produce.
The only problem is that until we really believe that we deserve to have the things we want, we will never be motivated to make the change.
When it hurts too much
John Maxwell says that “People change when they hurt enough that they have to change, learn enough that they want to change, receive enough that they are able to change.”
I’ve been struggling with my fitness targets for years. Writing the same targets year in and year out has led to despair. I felt trapped, like I was just fooling myself for even trying to make a change.
One day, while I was at gym, with my inner voice was shouting at me to finish quickly because I had so many things to do and on the other hand knowing that I would mentally berate myself if I hadn’t gone to gym in the first place, I knew that I had to stop the madness.
I hated myself if I didn’t go to gym – and I hated myself even when I was there.
I stopped the exercise I was doing and had an inner talk-in-the-corner with myself. “What’s really going on here?” I asked myself. Why am I continuing to keep going on this miserable-go-round cycle year in and year out?
I decided to run an experiment on myself, to get to the root of what was keeping me stuck in the proverbial mud when it came to getting my fitness to start moving in a forward direction. I decided to go to gym for one hour every day in the upcoming month and study (with a microscope) all the excuses and barriers that were preventing me from keeping my commitment to myself.
Once I challenged myself to figure out what was really going on with me, a friend who just happens to be a personal trainer offered his help and I was open enough to actually sign up for proper training sessions.
The day of my first session, I had a total freak out. I was scared, nervous, petrified even. The fear I felt made me realise that there was some deeper stuff going on that just forcing myself to get into workout gear.
I’d allowed all sorts of thorns to grow into my thinking about fitness, health, my own body image and what I can actually accomplish in this area. This is an ongoing process of change and challenge and my personal trainer surprises me every so often by taking things up a notch and pushing me further than I know my body can go.
But that’s the biggest hindrance to changing our bad habits: it takes work. You have to expend more energy and effort and focus to do the things you know will have a long term positive effect than just scoffing down the chips or scone (my personal nemesis) in the moment.
Working out regularly and eating better (just for a few weeks) has already had so many knock on positive effects. The small changes that I’ve seen within a two month time span helped me feel more confident when I finally did my first ever author talk.
That after workout feeling is also a pretty great high that really competes with the exhausted this-has-been-a-long-day feeling that makes me want to veg on the couch instead.
Oh yeah – and it’s freaking painful. There are days when I curse the stairs and feel the ache of muscles coming alive. I’m not at the point yet where I’m actually looking forward to the training sessions (that might come) but I keep showing up because I know that just doing the work is going to help me learn about what I am really capable of.
I ended up going to gym 28 days out of 31 (some days I opted to take a walk on the beach as my workout activity). My mini-experiment proved that actually, I had the capacity to change and finally prioritizing my personal commitments over the other areas on my life helped me feel more empowered to give my best to the world.
Small wins in one area of your life begin to inspire confidence in other areas of your life and eventually you find the small wins add up to a greater forward momentum that begins to build in your life.
Shifting from consuming to producing
When you shift from a consumer to a producer mindset, the things that used to be ok begins to choke your progress. I’ve mentioned before that I used to be a shopaholic… and that meant that I could literally spend hours in malls, being enthralled by all the colourful possibilities that I encountered.
And while I have to watch that I don’t get caught up in that cycle again, now when I feel myself wandering around the mall for a ‘must have item’, I’ve begun to notice that my inner voice is reminding me that I’m wasting time when I could rather be writing.
I’d been threatening my friends that I was going to publish a book for years. But until I started seeing myself as having something valuable to offer the world, I wasn’t acting on it.
If you want to make progress on the path of personal excellence, then you have to constantly break out of limiting versions of yourself. Having cheerleaders in your life that help you see the truth about your potential is also vital to breaking old patterns.
I finally did the work on my first book because I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. People have been telling me for years how much my writing has helped them, has inspired them to get closer to God, how what they read came at the right time to help answer some questions they had in their heart.
And so I was being really selfish by thinking so little of myself and not enough of what I’ve been given the world needs.
YOU have something that the world needs. You may not have absolute clarity on it yet. You might not fully believe in your ability to bring it out yet but the seed is there.
The way to tackle bad habits it to deal with our toxic thinking. Thought processes rooted in incorrect belief systems will keep you stuck and silently settling for a mediocre life when you know in your spirit that what you truly yearn for is to be excellence and significant.
Thinking that is linked to deep seated beliefs are difficult to change. It involves an intentional process of catching yourself playing the silent tapes in your head – and then interrupting them and replacing them with new information.
In the days of VHS and cassette tapes, you could record new music or video by taping over the old. Rewiring the negative narratives that are tripping you up is not that easy – but it is possible.
It means that you will have to keep presenting yourself with new information every time your brain brings up the old evidence of how you will fail in this area. What has helped me in this process is connecting to my spiritual identity as a child of God and seeing myself as God sees me – as perfect and whole on the inside.
The more I believe that, the more it motivates me to mirror on the outside what I know to be true on the inside. I can see more clearly now the actions that are limiting my growth. It doesn’t make it easier to shift to positive behavior but having a vision for a higher life helps me with the resolve to allow the sandpapering of my daily experiences to refine the truth I am living within.
Because I am secure in my identity as being loved, I can grow through my experience and learn how to constantly tweak my understanding and perspectives so that I stay tuned in to the frequencies of growth.
I can apologise to my husband when I’m wrong, I can decide when to speak up or when to just let something go, I can choose to focus on the most important tasks in a day and ignore the constant distractions clawing at my consciousness (definitely an hourly struggle).
I want my life to be rich: with experience, with joy, with growth, with peace, with good health, with abundance, with grace.
I can say goodbye to bad habits because they don’t offer any of that.