Melvyn Tan
November 28, 2013 — By tanmelvyn@gmail.com

H.A.B.I.T.: Five Steps To Breaking That Habit

[blockquote source=”2 Peter 2:20-22 (NIV)“]If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and are overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. It would have been better for them not to have known the […]

[blockquote source=”2 Peter 2:20-22 (NIV)“]If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and are overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them. Of them the proverbs are true: “A dog returns to its vomit,”and, “A sow that is washed returns to her wallowing in the mud.”[/blockquote]

Actions and Behaviors
As we review our achievements for the year, we must also pay attention to our actions and behaviors. What we do, or not do, has a direct consequence on our outcomes. If we run everyday, then the likelihood  of becoming healthier is higher than if we ran only when we felt like it. Some goals can be achieved if we take specific actions on a consistent basis. Unless those actions are fueled by a set of behaviors that comes naturally, oftentimes we would have to engineer our behaviors to support those actions.

My Experience
Take for example, I wanted to be fit. And to be fit would not only mean achieving a specific BMI but I would have to feel energized too. There is no point I exercise myself silly and reduce a significant amount of calories just to meet the BMI, but feel drained most of the time. Therefore, feeling energized is also a critical element for fitness.

To achieve that high level of energy, I would need to identify a list of behaviors that will:

  • Enhance my energy level – do more of it
  • Drain my energy – eliminate these

Sounds simple. But do not be fooled by its simplicity. Because it is deceptively simple to understand but tremendously difficult to do.

Positive Behaviors
The first list of behaviors (those that enhance my energy level) are not something that I have been doing regularly, if at all. What goes into this list includes:

  • Eat more vegetables
  • Drink more water
  • Eat more fruits
  • Get sufficient sleep
  • Exercise regularly

Make It A Habit
As a result, I had to find a way to install these behaviors in my daily life such that these becomes habits. Why habits because when something is a habit, you do not even need to think about it but you would do it anyway. For instance, brushing your teeth in the morning is a habit (I hope). Taking a shower when you come home is a habit. These are behaviors that you would do without even needing to plan or remind yourself to do it.

Negative Behaviors
While in this case, habits can bring positive impact on your life; there are also habits that have negative impact. And these are the second category of behaviors mentioned above (those that drain my energy level). To achieve a specific BMI and to feel energized, I’d need to eliminate (or at least minimize) these behaviors:

  • Smoking
  • Staying up late (sometimes just simply staying up late)
  • Consuming excessive amount of caffeine drinks (such as coffee and tea – even at late hours)
  • Consuming a significant amount of food before or close to bed time
  • Taking long naps
  • Mindless surfing on smartphone just before bedtime
  • Waking up late in the morning

Habits can shape your Identity
As you can tell, these behaviors will have negative impact on my desired BMI as well as energy level. But more importantly, these behaviors have become habits, where I do not even have to consciously think about doing it (I just do it). Worse, some of these habits have been so deeply ingrained that they have become part of my identity. For instance, I would tell people that I’m a smoker. I would say that I’m a night owl or I’m not a morning person.

Now, to reduce some of these behaviors are difficult, to eliminate them would almost be impossible. For instance, for years I’ve struggled to quit smoking. The first time I’ve had some success was when I did the exercise in Tony Robbins book, Unlimited Power. However, through a series of ups and downs, I went back to smoking again. And this time more intense than before.

This time round, I’ve had much greater success; with the exception of one relapse, I have been smoke-free since January 1st, 2013. Did I still think about smoking, yes, during the first four months. Now, the thought of going back to it is just unthinkable.

Sin
Smoking, just like sinning, is a habit that some of us have grown accustomed to. Worse, some of us have even allowed it to infiltrate into our identity. Take for example, I get angry easily. I get angry when things don’t go my way or when I can’t have things my way. Either way, I’d be pissed. Anger is a sin. Even if you don’t think it is as harmful as adultery, it is still a sin nonetheless.

Break that H.A.B.I.T.
And as true follower of Christ, we already know the way we have to conduct ourselves, but if yet we succumb to sin over and over again, then we are truly worse off then before. Be warned, sin is real and it can take over your life. So in order to combat sin, we need these five key steps.

H is for Honor God
Sin is the work of the devil. Whether it is smoking, telling lies, adultery, or denying God, these are all sin. And to think that we ourselves are armed with the power to counter the evil one would be to think that you can win a fencing match by using a matchstick. Truly, the tools that we have are just like matchsticks against the evil one. Therefore, the first step to eliminate it is to honor God. To humbly seek God’s help in this battle.

Question: have you prayed to God and asked for His help?

A is for Attention
Next, you have to pay attention to what you want. Trying to eliminate a bad habit by thinking about doing it less is like trying not to think about the pink elephant. Because the moment that thought cross your mind, all you could picture is simply the pink elephant. So identify a positive habit that you want to install or a positive outcome you’d want to achieve. For instance, to quit smoking, my attention was not “Quit Smoking”, because if I do that, all I’d think about is “Smoking”. Instead, I focus my attention on what I wanted. Hence, my attention was diverted to “being healthy, being energized”.

Question: what are the positive outcomes or habits do you want?

B is for Behaviors 
Tell me what you do each day and I’d tell you if you will become successful. As our daily behaviors are the building blocks of our future outcomes, we must then identify the list of behaviors that are associated with the positive outcome that you’d want to achieve in the preceding step. For me, I wanted to be healthy and to feel energized; so I identified a list of five behaviors that I would commit to on a daily basis. The five behaviors are eating fruits, vegetables, drinking at least 7 glasses of water, exercising, and getting sufficient sleep. Full disclosure: I do not always fulfill these five behaviors everyday, but since I’ve made it into a habit, I now factor that into my life. For instance, we order pre-cooked meals five times a week and so we ensure that at least one of the dishes is a vegetable.

Question: what are the behaviors associated with the positive outcome you want to achieve and how would you structure these into your daily life such that it becomes almost automatic?

I is for Identity
This is a critical step. Unless you shift your identity, the behaviors you’ve identified in the previous step would not be sustained. For instance, if I do not shift my identity from “late owl/ not a morning person” to “early riser”, going to bed early would be a struggle. True, in the initial phase it was tough. But once I’ve made that shift in my identity, it became almost natural. If you’re having trouble changing your identity to a positive onen, or at least one that is congruent with the outcomes and behaviors that you want, just remember this: God didn’t made you a loser, as someone who tells lies, as someone who is lustful, as someone who cheats. God made you in His likeness.

Question: what’s the shift in your identity that must be made so that it is congruent with your desired outcomes and behaviors?

T is The Cross
Remember that we have a High Priest who is able to empathize with our weaknesses and has been tempted in every way, just as we are, and yet He did not sin (Hebrews 4:15). Therefore, focus on Jesus each day, and ask for His help in this battle daily.

Question: have you asked Jesus for help?

Live it Back to Front
Once you’ve completed the five steps listed about, from H to T, now you’d have to live it from T to H:

  • The Cross: focus on Jesus, ask for help;
  • Identity: be the person that God wants you to be – make that shift in your identity;
  • Behaviors: commit to a set of replacement behaviors on a consistent basis;
  • Attention: pay attention to the desired outcomes;
  • Honor God: Honor God in all that you do.

Prayer
Father we pray that You guide us as we combat sin and reclaim our identity that You have intended for us to be. In Jesus name, Amen.