Do you understand?
“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do, I do not do, but what I hate I do.” the great Apostle of Jesus Christ, Paul said, according to the book of Romans 7:15. Every time I read this part of scripture, I am always left baffled because of the contrast brought about between who Paul was and what he struggled with. Before becoming an apostle and as an apostle, his life can be summed up in two words; intentional and zealous. But we see that on reflecting on his actions, Paul concluded that he couldn’t comprehend his actions: Simply put, his will was at odds with his habits. And this, the will at odds with habits, is often the paradox we find ourselves. Like Paul, we find ourselves having the will to eat healthily and workout but end up eating fast-food and crushing in front of the TV. Other times we desire to walk by faith, but we find ourselves driven by fear. The gap between what we will do and what we do explains why changing habits is always an uphill battle. Paul, a man who, through the inspiration of the Spirit of God, wrote most of the New Testament of the Bible, does not only share in the struggle with habits, he provides an insight into habits. Despite him not understanding the what of habits, he understood the why.
Paul understood that his inability to do good when he desired to was due to a law he refers to as the law of sin. He further understood that if he is going to do good or turn his good intentions into good actions, he needed a superior law, which he identifies as God’s law. Whatever your religion or faith is, we can all agree that two universal forces govern our behavior. We call these forces positive and negative forces. After interacting with many people who we don’t share a common faith with and some who completely deny God’s existence, I have come to believe that we all can acknowledge that our behaviors as humans are either as outcomes of positive energy or negative energy. Whether we use Paul’s phraseology and refer to the negative force as sin nature in us that produce destructive habits; or call the positive force as God’s nature in us that shapes our lives and produce wholesome habits, we can attest that we have seen the impact of these forces in our lives. At the purest level of all habits, even those which look insignificant in shaping our lives, you will find that one of these two forces at play. These forces are the roots of all human habits; they are the substratum of intention that shapes our actions even when we are not aware of it. In addition, to being at the root of our habits, positive or negative forces act as the anchor to our personal beliefs, depending on which one we choose.
We are the outcome of our personal beliefs. What you hold to be true about yourself and the world around you is what constitutes your personal belief, and that will shape your behaviors in profound ways. What you believe or not believe about yourself and the universe will determine all your actions and shape your habits. If your personal belief is that all things are possible for you, you will slowly and gradually build habits of courage and confidence. When you believe you have the final authority over your circumstances and situations you find yourself, you will develop empowering habits. On the other hand, if you have self-defeating beliefs, over time, you will have self-defeating habits.
Your beliefs shape our habits in three major ways. First, what you believe to be true or not, shapes the perception of the world around you. For example, if I believe that people are inherently good, I will perceive or sense the good in people. The opposite is true. If I believe that people are by nature, evil, I will always walk around seeing the bad side of people. Second, your personal beliefs will determine your knowledge input. We tend to learn more or acquire more information about what we believe to be true or beneficial and ignore what we believe to be untrue. Third, your personal beliefs act as the ceiling to your life’s impact. It is impossible to act above what you believe to be true. What you see as possible in life is directly proportional to the truths you hold.
To have good habits or turn bad habits into good ones, you must examine the root from which they stem. The good news is that there are only two roots, godly (good and positive) and ungodly (evil or negative) roots, as we saw earlier. Your environment will amplify your habits.
James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits, wrote, “Environment is the invisible hand that shapes human behavior…over a long time period, your personal characteristics tend to get overpowered by your environment.”
We are wired to find the path of least resistance and identify clues that will make us achieve what our hearts desire. The environment is what provides the influencers with our habits. This affects basic human behavior such as what kind of food we farm or eat and what we consider sophisticated behavior like choosing to use a Mac or a PC computer. Your environment is either fostering or hindering your habits, whether they are good or bad. A simple act of surrounding yourself with people of positive personal beliefs could help you build good habits and break bad ones with ease. When you combine your positive personal beliefs with a good environment, or vice versa, negative personal beliefs with a bad environment, you will realize that your habits are atomic (powerful) and automatic. James Clear observed, “People who seem to stick to good habits with ease are often benefitting from an environment that makes those behaviors easier.” And we can conclude that when our environment is not designed to work for us, good habits will be an uphill batter and bad habits a downhill slither; we will struggle to succeed since our willpower will against of a poor environment.
The goal is to design your environment so that your good habits come easily and any bad habits become difficult to do.
There is no question that habits are powerful and determine our destiny in life. In fact, there is a popular quote that says, “Choose your habits carefully; they decide your future.” What makes habits powerful to the extent of which sometimes confuse our habits with our identity is because they are atomic and automated. Habits are atomic because they are so fine-tuned, like an atom, in our minds that they often are the base of the many behaviors we have. I am coming to believe that, more often than not, behind every behavior, there is a habit. Habits are, by nature, automated to aid us save energy. This can be a blessing or a curse. Good habits enable us to easily act on our good intentions while bad habits enable us to act badly against our good intention easily.
The atomic automation nature of habits is what gives habits a strong grip on us and makes us feel like our habits run our lives. While habits are powerful, we have power over them through our choices. But how do we choose habits? I believe the best way is to go back to the roots. I find myself struggling in breaking bad habits when I don’t apply the right procedure for choosing habits. The power of choosing our habits is the only way to overcome bad habits and build a good one. A further study of the life of Apostle Paul reveals that he understood the only way to have godly habits is to choose the roots based on the laws of God.
So, why do we do what we repeatedly do? The short answer is habits. The detailed explanation is the roots we establish our lives on (godly or evil roots), the personal beliefs we hold, and our environments.
We live in an unprecedented time, with the pandemic raging and social injustice on the rise, we might feel powerless. I believe the best way to succeed is to fortify ourselves with good habits and break bad ones. Next, we will look at habits that can help us emerge better from the storm we are facing.