Developing New Habits

**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

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profilepic3Rebecca 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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Golden Goggles

What a difference perspective makes.

One Olympian is devastated to receive a silver medal while another makes history with a bronze. One Olympian rejoices like the greatest victor making it to third place while another Olympian totes a sour demeanor as a second place finalist.

Throughout the Olympics I’ve noticed a recurring theme transcending every event. There are athletes only happy with a gold medal, and there are athletes who would be happy with any medal at all. There are countries who have never received medals in certain events and others who are expected to receive gold in every event. For me, the layperson at home, I marvel at the attitudes of some receiving silver or bronze medals. One athlete even sobbed uncontrollably at their disappointment receiving a silver medal.

If there was an event for coffee drinking I might have a chance at Olympic gold, otherwise my days will be spent in the mediocrity of mundane every-day living while the “real” champs make millions in endorsements.  I’d like to think if I was talented in a given sport, was honored enough to make it to the biggest forum the world has ever known, and took away a silver or bronze medal-beating dozens of other world-class athletes-that I’d be thrilled beyond comprehension. I’ve seen that response in a few athletes, but the overwhelming take-away from many post-event interviews is that anything less than gold is trash.

And what does this message teach? If you work hard, sacrifice much and come in second place you’re a worthless piece of garbage? What a shame. I’ve seen interviews where athletes are practically defending their silver/bronze medals to a broadcaster determined to squeeze out a dramatic interview. “Oh, you must be so disappointed you didn’t get gold.” One athlete responded to this statement (loosely paraphrased)”I’m at the Olympics and I’m on the medal stand-I think that’s good enough.” Bravo.

And how often does this type of thinking play out in every-day life? We have big goals, big dreams, and great ambitions-and then we fall short. We feel there is only one outcome that will work, and when that outcome isn’t realized we are sobbing in second place. Our golden-goggles blur our vision of greatness.

Could it be that maybe, just maybe, our less-than-grandeur finish was what God had planned for us all along? That perhaps our un-notoriety was the greatness God destined us for? Isn’t His plan the best plan, and His outcome the best result?

There’s nothing wrong with high aspirations, but we must remember our plans are not always His plans. When we’ve done our best and come up short of what we expected, we have to trust His purposes. That place of trust is the only place that soothes lost dreams and dashed hopes.

“Commit your actions to the Lord and your plans will succeed.” Proverbs 16:3

If I commit every action to the glory of God, the outcome will be a success in God’s eyes, though not necessarily in man’s eyes. I want to wear the golden goggles of God’s success. I want to be okay with His outcome. I want to have His perspective.  What color goggles do you have on today?

“We can make our own plans, but the Lord gives the right answer. People may be pure in their own eyes, but the Lord examines their motives. Commit your actions to the Lord, and your plans will succeed.” Proverbs 16:1-3

Why…why…why?

Why….why…why?

As a mother of a toddler I couldn’t possibly recount all the times I have heard this question, “Why, mommy?”

“Because I said so,” I have caught myself replying.

However, the Holy Spirit began to convict me that my curt reply was not good enough. He brought to mind my own childhood, and how I felt about such responses. I know my parents did the best they could with what they had, and I certainly don’t blame them for my own choices, but I do wish I had been given better answers to the “whys”.

As I stood outside this morning I felt the Spirit prompting me to make a list of my purposes. He asked me, “What is your purpose?” I would think, as God, He would know! Of course he knew, but I am the one that didn’t really know, and my lack of effectiveness showed that I didn’t know. I needed to unpack my purpose and define it. I needed an answer to the “why”.

Immediately He began speaking to me, and I couldn’t write fast enough. Not just another list of dos and don’ts that I will never be able to live up to, rather a list of purposes, and why they are my purposes.  I’ll share some of them….

My first purpose was easy, “To love the Lord with all my heart, mind and strength.”

Why?

Because:

“You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and all your strength; and you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands.” Deut. 6:5-6

Next I wrote under my purpose and verse:

What have I done to accomplish my purpose today? And then I left myself several lines to record what I am doing today (and every day for a week) to reach this life goal.

Having goals is good, but knowing why you have these goals is better, and pursuing God’s goals for your life is the absolute best.

Why did God command me to love Him with all my heart? Because He created me, He knows me better than any human could ever know me, and He knows what is best for me. He also knows the only way I will ever be truly happy is to walk in His will (Psalm 1:1-2), and I need to pursue him with all that I am in order to uncover his will. Notice I didn’t settle with, “because God said so,” (Even though that statement is perfectly valid.)

This isn’t just my purpose; this is the purpose God has given to all His creation. Every human being on this planet has been given this command. It’s universal and personal.

My next purpose is another universal purpose, but also very specific for me.

“Honor my husband through becoming a true woman and wife of God, as He has commanded.”

It was challenging for me to put this next on the list. I was tempted to put a host of other things there, like loving my daughter or getting healthy (which are elsewhere on my list), but God has said in his word He is to be first, and our spouse second before the children. Ok, I need to trust God has a reason for this. (Maybe that reason is that honoring our spouses happens to be one of the hardest things to do naturally.) My “why”:

“You wives must accept the authority of your husbands…you should clothe yourselves with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God.” 1 Peter 3:1, 4

Next one:

“Serve my daughter as a good mother, defined by God’s Word.”

Why?

“That they may learn to fear me all the days that they live upon earth, and they may teach their children.” Deu.t 4:10

“Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” Prov. 22:6

Why wouldn’t any parent want what is best for their children? The key to teaching our children comes with our primary purpose, loving God with all our hearts. Out of that first purpose will flow the rest; our children will witness us living our God-given purposes, see the blessings and reward (Psalm 37:4), and want that for themselves.

My list has nine purposes, all with a verse to answer my “why” and space to write how I am living out my purposes every day. This process has really helped me break down the questions and work to find the answers in God’s Word, rather than in man’s philosophies. Being positive and motivational is great, but it takes on a whole new meaning when we find from God’s Word why He wants us to be that way (encouraging rather than discouraging). There is a reason for the commands we are given, and it isn’t simply “Because God said so”. It is so much deeper than that. I believe this is why I have failed at so many attempts to “do” certain things. I never really unpacked my purpose and discovered why I am doing those things or how they will benefit me. It is important to find out the “why” of obedience and share that with our children, spouses, friends, neighbors, and coworkers.

Why do I have my daughter help me clean at such a young age? Because God has commanded that we be good stewards of our earthly possessions, and I not only want to show my thankfulness for Gods provision by taking care of it, I also want to teach that to my daughter.

Why do I want to eat healthy and exercise? Why do I encourage my daughter to do this? Is it so I can be liked and admired? What’s my motive? It’s because God has told me my body is a temple, and I am to honor that temple as the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. That purpose should motivate my daily decisions regarding food, activity, and what I allow my child to eat and do. When she asks me “why”, I want to give her a good reason, the best reason. This is what God says and this is why; he loves us and wants us to be fulfilled in the purposes he gave us.

When I was growing up, I really got tired of hearing, “because I said so.” Once I became a teenager that reasoning no longer held any weight with me. I wish I had fully understood how much God loved me and why he wanted me to stay abstinent, be pure, love him, and remain in church fellowship. Unfortunately I never understood those “whys” and decided my own reasoning’s were better. For several years I made many poor choices due to my misunderstanding of God’s love for me, and my lack of trust in him. These choices had many terrible consequences, some of which will remain with me until I am made perfect in the presence of Jesus.

As I teach my daughter what it means to give to others, share, love, show compassion, and serve, I want to be able to tell her why these things are important. I want her to grow up with more than a, “because I said so” response. But really, the ultimate teacher is the one who practices first what they preach. Being a doer and not just a talker, this is the greatest example we can give to those around us.

The next time someone asks you “why,” be ready to give a good Godly answer.

I challenge you to make your own list of purposes, then search the Scriptures to make sure they are in line with God’s Word as well as the “why” of that purpose.

Perhaps you could share one or two of them with me, so we can stand together in accountability. I look forward to hearing your responses!