I’m going to be honest, the subject of this particular post, habits and their underlying beliefs, is largely over my head, which is one of the reasons I decided to challenge myself in contributing to Not at the Dinner Table in the first place. Ever hear the quote, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten?” I have no idea who said it, but it seems to be the story of my life. And I know I’m not alone. Habits are so hard to change, and from my experience the reason is two-fold.
First, habits directly represent underlying beliefs. Often times we try to change our habits (eating healthier, praying more, exercising more, reading more, resting more) without acknowledging the associated beliefs. If negative beliefs aren’t addressed, there’s a sort of rubber band effect to our efforts– we can only stretch so far before we snap back into neutral. We’re wired for comfort. Usually, something in our mindset needs to change for us to be motivated enough to change our habits long term.
Second, we inherit many, if not majority, of our habits from the culture in which we are raised. Parents, siblings, friends, teachers, and the like influence habits adopted. So, many habits are formed without a direct acknowledgement or understanding of the underlying beliefs. And we often have to dig many years and generations back to identify beliefs associated with our inherited habits.
So yea, habits can be really hard to change.
If you really want to journey into health and wholeness, you have to face yourself. Aristotle said, "…virtues are formed in man by doing the actions; we are what we repeatedly do." Habits directly reflect beliefs. And habits largely define a person’s character.
Is it possible to create new habits without digging into our belief system? Of course. Will they be as fruitful? Not even close. In my mind, there are two options. We can either float through life or engage in life. Floating through life often entails doing what we’ve always done because, well, it’s what we’ve always done and it’s comfortable. Floating means staying the course, creating culture-appropriate goals (i.e. the American Dream), and trying not to ask too many questions. Engaging in life means figuring out why we do what we do, and choosing to create habits for ourselves that support our actual beliefs.
For example, until recently, eating healthy was a huge struggle for me. I was addicted to sugar, namely chocolate. Sugar is 8x more addictive than cocaine, and it’s in almost everything – ketchup, tomato sauce, salad dressing, applesauce, peanut butter, etc. Sugar and food addiction is real. If you haven’t seen the documentary Fed Up, check it out. In the past eating healthy meant depriving myself of chocolate, and sugar, and bread (which our bodies use just like sugar) and other favorite foods, and well, that just wasn’t worth it. My mentality about eating healthy changed when I started to take the idea of being addicted to sugar seriously. I realized that eating healthy didn’t mean depriving myself, it meant depriving my addiction. And, on the flip side, in fueling my addiction to sugar I was actually depriving my body of much needed nutrients. Eating healthy isn’t easy, but in my mind, the stakes are too high. I wholeheartedly believe my body is a temple of God (1 Corinthians 6:19) and has the capacity for vitality and health. I believe that sacrificing the wellbeing of my body and my overall quality of life for the sake of my addiction isn’t worth it. Because of my shift in mindset, eating healthy is becoming a habit.
CREATING LIFE GIVING HABITS
In my last post, Where to Begin, I talked about the disconnect between humans and our humanness. Culture dictates convenience, productivity, and busyness, all of which make slowing down and reconnecting with the world extremely difficult. But, if we are ever to achieve a glimpse of genuine health and wholeness, we need to slow down and allow ourselves the opportunity to reconnect with the fundamentals of being human, which are rooted in relationship- relationship with our Creator, relationship with each other, relationship with Earth, the dust from which we were formed, and relationship with our own minds, bodies, and souls.
If you’re looking to create positive habits in your life, a good place to start is with the fundamentals. Keep it simple. In fact, keep it stupid simple. We all know we need food, water, movement and sleep. Embracing our basic needs as humans is a great way to start reconnecting with our humanness and engaging in our lives.
Take movement for example. Those who move often are generally happier and healthier. Do you believe you’d feel better in life if you start moving more? If you believe exercise is a chore, it’s going to feel like a chore. If you believe exercise is life giving, it’s going to feel life giving. I go back and forth between the two. But creating a small habit of moving daily – maybe doing ten jumping jacks every morning - can go a long way if one of your goals is to move more.
Overall, discovering and choosing what we believe about ourselves and the world is a journey. We will never have all the answers. The important thing is to engage in the process and start asking questions.