**Originally published in The Christian Online Magazine, May 2013**
A few months ago I wandered into the pantry for a snack, found a bag of sunflower seeds and got to cracking. Within two weeks I found myself constantly snacking on sunflower seeds and whenever my supply ran out, I made special trips to the store to get more (or I begged my spouse to do so). Eventually my husband called me out on my behavior, “You know you’re addicted to those things.”
Of course, being the honest, sensitive, open-minded person I am, I responded, “NO I’M NOT!” But my defensiveness told the story. He was right; I had become “addicted” to the seeds and it took a couple of months for me to break the habit.
Whether it’s removing a food from your diet, exercising, or spending more time in prayer, new habits can be developed but it’s important to keep a couple of things in mind:
•Make an Attainable Goal
No matter what the goal is, make sure it’s actually doable. If you’re trying to lose weight, don’t make a goal to exercise an hour a day, eat salads at every meal, or lose six clothing sizes in a month—you’ll only be setting yourself up for failure. Instead, pray about it and make a goal that is reasonable. Maybe you’ll commit to exercising twice a week for a while, until your endurance builds up. Or maybe you’ll decide to cut your dinner portions in half and stop the late night snacking. Whatever it is, start small and make baby steps. Any progress is better than nothing.
The same concept applies to your spiritual growth. If you are trying to develop a good devotional routine, it would be unwise to commit to waking up at 3am and spending an hour and a half in prayer and study when you’re normal routine involves waking up at 6am and getting out the door by 7:30am. Again, make a reasonable goal. Maybe try to go to bed fifteen minutes earlier each night, and wake up fifteen minutes earlier each morning. Set yourself up for success by making goals you can actually achieve and stay committed to.
•Make a Thirty Day Commitment
Whenever you commit to replacing a bad habit with a good one, make sure to take baby steps. Thirty-day goals are a great place to start because it’s easier to see the light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak. Psychologically, there is a huge difference between saying, “I’m going to exercise every day for the rest of my life,” and, “I’m going to exercise three times a week for the next month.”
When your radar is set on “forever” it’s easy to get discouraged because there’s no end in sight—especially if you’re trying to develop a new habit. Maybe you can’t commit to avoiding fast food every day for the rest of your life, but you can commit to just thirty days. The same goes for any new habit, whether it’s removing a food from your diet or spending more time in prayer and Bible study. Focus on the short term goal and once you’ve reached it, make a new goal for the next thirty days. After a few months of this, you’ll find yourself with a new, good habit that has replaced the old.
You may also find it helpful to keep a list or calendar of some sort that you can mark off upon completing your goal. Each day when you see that “X” or check mark, you’ve come one day closer to your short-term goal. You’ll also find this useful on the days you fall short. Maybe you missed your workout, or you weren’t feeling well and caved in to eating that tempting treat. But knowing that you’ve only got thirty days to get through will encourage you to get back on the wagon as soon as possible. And once those thirty days is up you’ll realize it wasn’t as bad as you thought, and you can probably do it again.
The first few days are always the toughest but stick with it, because the rewards will far outweigh the temporary discomfort. And by the time your first thirty days is up, you’ll find that God did equip you to accomplish your goal and He will equip you to accomplish the next one.
“I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:13
© Rebecca Aarup
Rebecca Aarup is a redeemed prodigal, set free from over a decade of mental illness, eating disorders, addiction, and more. She now enjoys sharing her story of freedom and transformation with a lost and hurting world, as well as teaching about spiritual warfare and the importance of understanding our identity in Christ.
Rebecca is also an author and freelance writer, having written devotionals and teaching articles for a variety of publications including The Secret Place (Judson press), Evangel (Light and Life Communications), and Mustard Seed Ministries. Beyond writing, Rebecca is a wife, home-schooling mom, and Bible student at Liberty University. She lives in Glendale, Az with her husband Chris and daughter, Samantha. You can read more from Rebecca by following her on twitter and facebook.
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