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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The Voices in My Head: The Flesh (Part 2)

In the last post I gave a simple example of how to discern the voices in our head (God, Satan, or the Flesh). In this post I will elaborate more on the Flesh, which is probably where the greatest confusion remains in most Christian circles. First, the following is a simple way to define the voices:

God’s voice: The Bible as a whole, God’s Word, Truth, the Holy Spirit’s leading (always in line with God’s written Word).

Satan’s voice: Incomplete truths, deceptions, schemes, tricks, lies, temptations, partial Scripture quotes taken out of context to support a view that is opposed to God (see Matthew 4:1-11).

The Flesh: Learned behavior/habits, coping mechanisms, our own subjective thoughts (i.e. “I want to eat at Burger King today).

You would be hard-pressed to walk into any church today and hear a message teaching these concepts, which is dreadfully sad. Most Christians walk around with somewhat of a self-defeatist attitude. “I’m just a wretched sinner!” True, we are sinners saved by grace (Eph. 2:8-9), but once we have been saved we are a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17, Gal. 6:15, Eph. 4:24, Col. 3:10) clothed with the righteousness of Christ (Who I Am in Christ). We are no longer wretched sinners, but rather, children of God who still sin.

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     Neil Anderson uses an excellent illustration of this concept (from the book The Bondage Breaker). When you get a splinter in your finger, do you say you are a wretched piece of wood because you now have a splinter in your finger? Do you now take on the identity of the splinter as your own? Obviously not! No, you are a human being with a piece of wood in your finger. Scripturally you will find this concept made clear in Romans 7:14-25. It doesn’t take much work to discover that Paul is referring to himself after he has been regenerated (I know much debate remains about this fact, but if you’re using proper techniques of Biblical interpretation you can arrive at no other conclusion than this). Many of us can identify with Paul’s struggle. We know better, yet we still sin! What’s wrong with us?

The Flesh

     In simple terms we are infected with the “sin splinter” otherwise known as “the flesh”. The nature we were born with (self-serving/pride) along with the habits we’ve developed over a lifetime all contribute to this voice known as the flesh. Paul recognized this and he hated it. He knew he had been regenerated as a new creation in Christ, yet at times he still struggled to put that old nature to death. We can only imagine what Paul’s specific struggle was with but Scripture isn’t clear on it. It wouldn’t surprise me if pride had something to do with it, though. Deep down we are all struggling against a self-serving attitude, from the way we dress to the food we eat. Our world revolves around us, our desires, wants, and needs. No matter how awesome we are as Christians, pride will always be an issue because it is in our flesh which continuously wars with the new life we received when we accepted Christ. Jesus is the antithesis of pride and self. This is why just doing “what Jesus would do” is not as easy as it sounds. It contradicts our flesh! On our own we can’t will ourselves into good works with proper motives; this can only be accomplished through Christ’s rule in our hearts.

Coping Mechanisms/Habits (Flesh)

     As an addict I learned how to cope with mental anguish by abusing drugs. This was a learned behavior, as well as a sinful behavior. Over time it became a pattern of life. Feel pain—take drugs—pain goes away (temporarily). Some of us deal with unhealthy learned habits every day when we fight the urge to over-indulge at the dinner table or eat chocolate for dinner instead of broccoli (maybe even chocolate covered broccoli?). I grew up drinking soda and cool-aid every day, and eating macaroni and cheese and bologna sandwiches. It was a learned way of eating (and an early introduction to weight problems). As an adult I have had to work hard to re-learn a healthier way to treat my temple (1 Cor. 6:19-20). But when that voice kicks in saying, “Boy, I’d sure love to sit down with a bag of Doritos and watch T.V. all day,” I can be certain this voice is my flesh and not Satan.

Defense Mechanisms (Flesh)

•denial (a conscious or unconscious refusal to face the truth)

•fantasy (escaping the real world)

•emotional insulation (withdrawing to avoid rejection)

•regression (reverting to less threatening times)

•displacement (taking out frustrations on others)

•projection (blaming others)

•rationalization (making excuses for poor behaviors)

[Strongholds] are fleshly thought patterns that were programmed into your mind when you learned to live your life independently of God. Your worldview was shaped by the environment you were raised in. But when you became a Christian, nobody pressed the “CLEAR” button. Your old fleshly habit patterns of thought weren’t erased.¹

I hope this clears up some of the confusion surrounding the flesh and what exactly it means. In the next post we’ll discuss Satan’s voice in specific detail.

     Are you able to recognize fleshly patterns in your own life? What is your greatest “flesh” struggle?

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¹ The Bondage Breaker ©1990/1993/2000 by Neil T. Anderson Published by Harvest House Publishers (pp. 60-61)

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Related Posts:

The Voices in My Head: God, Satan, or My Flesh (Part 1)

Satan, God, the Flesh, and Spiritual Warfare

Spiritual Warfare 101: Is it Real?

Breaking Up is Hard to Do…

“This is my prayer: that your love may abound more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ.” Philippians 1:9-10

Under the conviction of the Holy Spirit I recently made several dramatic changes to my lifestyle (1 Cor. 6:12-13, 19-20). I’ve found, through the implementation of these new habits, many “bad” habits came to light I was unaware of. As I mediated on such things I discovered three sources of influence over my choices:

#1-Parents

Some of the things I’ve done my whole life are a direct result of how I was raised (this is not a ding against my parents but merely a fact-see Proverbs 22:6). It’s extremely difficult to replace habits practiced for more than twenty years-but it can be done. The Holy Spirit has strengthened and enabled me to follow His will for my life today. (Phil. 4:13)

#2-Media

If I spend too much time reading/viewing secular media, I find it tempting to become overwhelmed with a wide variety of opinions (Rom. 12:1-2).  One week something is bad for you and the next week that same thing is good for you. If I choose to believe everything I read without seeking the will of God through His word and prayer, I will be on a constant roller-coaster of frustration.

#3-Christians

Many well-meaning Christians have a variety of opinions based on their interpretation of Scripture and their own experiences in life (often relating to how they were raised-something we all do). More often than not, I have experienced a great deal of criticism within Christianity regarding lifestyle choices, especially anything that contradicts what someone else is doing. Everyone has an opinion, interpretation, and a judgment. (Matt. 7:1-5) The only way I can really know what is best for me is to spend time in the word and prayer. (Phil. 4:6-7)

This isn’t the first time I’ve received negative feedback regarding a personal choice, but I do believe I am following God’s will for my life (recognizing this is not His specific calling for every believer). I’ve done research and made, what I believe to be, an informed decision based on that research and my relationship with God. I am the one who will answer for my choices; it is imperative I do whatever it takes to maintain a clear conscience before God. (James 4:17)

I’m now questioning every choice I make under this light: is it God’s word and Spirit guiding me or the habits and opinions of others?

New Life

I think I am still “hungover” from Sunday, that is, emotionally hungover. Despite my exhaustion yesterday, I felt as though I were soaring with the eagles. I’ve been trying to stay integrated in the truths that have allowed me to receive the freedom Christ provided.

In The Steps to Freedom in Christ, there is a list of lies believed about God, and the corresponding truth. I have been reading them (out loud) over and over again since Sunday.

I renounce the lie that my Father God is absent or too busy for me and I choose to believe the truth that my Father God is always with me and eager to be with me.

“‘For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness.'” Ezekial 34:11-12

As I was stepping into the shower yesterday my daughter said, “Mom wait! You forgot to get on the scale!” I stood there dumbfounded for a moment before responding, “You know what? Mommy doesn’t need the scale anymore.” She shrugged her shoulders and climbed in the shower with me. At that moment I realized how my behavior had been affecting my child. She was so used to seeing me get on that scale every day, she had been stepping on it right after me. She is only 4! “Oh God, forgive me for teaching my daughter this harmful pattern, help me create new habits for myself that she will want to mimmick.” One of these new habits is reading out loud The Overcomers Covenant in Christ. Samantha enjoys sitting with me while I read it, and asks me questions about it.

It’s not enough to eliminate bad habits, they must be replaced with new, wholesome habits.

I renounce every unrighteous use of my body and I commit myself to no longer be conformed to this world, but rather to be transformed by the renewing of my mind, and I choose to belive the truth and walk in it regardless of my feelings or circumstances. – from The Overcomers Covenant in Christ (Neil Anderson)

Today is a new day, the second day of my new life, and I am seeing things with a new set of eyes. My husband came home and I had a new love for him.

I look at my daughter and see radiating innocence and beauty.

I look at food and see nourishment, not punishment. For as many ups and downs as I’ve had in my Christian walk, I have never experienced the life I am living now. I am seated with Christ in the heavenly realm (Eph. 2:6) and for once I believe that is true for me, not just everyone else. I am God’s temple (1 Cor. 3:16) and I am complete in Christ (Col. 2:10).