Break Harmful Behavioral Patterns
Steps in Recovering a Meaningful Life
Feeling stuck? With the quarantine lasting longer than anticipated, it is easy to pick up harmful behavioral patterns. There’s a difference between a sin and a bad habit. Sometimes they can be the same thing but not always. However, the approach to stopping sin or a bad habit starts in the same way. You have to first admit this is bad for you and it needs to stop., “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy,” Proverbs 28:13. A habit is a regular practice, wired deep into our brains, often hard to give up. Habits can be good (like exercise, healthy eating, and regular Bible-reading) or bad (think of unhealthy tendencies that make us feel stuck).
If you’re struggling with negative behavioral patterns, here are steps to take in recovering a meaningful life:
1. Admit it! Things are out of order. You’re not happy and things are not going well for you, God has the answer, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and ALL things will be added to you,” Matthew 6:33. If there’s no peace, no joy or you’re feeling stuck, identify why. Is it your phone? Your to-do-list? Your husband or boyfriend? Admit it and identify the things that are keeping you from a fully satisfying life.
2. Define why! What are the positive reasons to break the habit? Galatians 6:8, we are told that we reap what we sow in both negative and positive ways. So just as you must clearly define the negative reasons you should stop this bad habit, you must also fully define the positive reasons you should stop this behavior too. For example, I choose to break a relationship with this person because I feel manipulated. I have no voice and there’s no concern for my well-being.
3. Identify Triggers! A trigger is a stimulus that sparks a desire or a craving. If it’s at night when you’re bored, you may seek something to eat or drink. Triggers are associated with a memory or situation that relates in some way to prior experience. For example, if someone struggles with addiction, the people they interact with, the places they spend their time and in some situations, their place of work can become strongly associated with their addictive behavior. Triggers can also be through stress, people, locations, moods, dates, smells, etc.
4. Make a Plan! After identifying the triggers, ask God for a practical solution. The plan must be created to cope with exposure to the trigger. For example, I know that bumping into this person or passing a bar or liquor store may leave me in a vulnerable place; therefore, I will stay away from these places. Have an accountability plan to help you prevent a slip-up in these situations. This may include calling someone, journaling, or removing yourself from a stressful situation.
5. Consider Tomorrow! While chocolate ice cream might seem good in the moment, wisdom asks what the implications are for tomorrow. If physical discomfort comes from a habit, focus on the discomfort that will come tomorrow instead of the temporary pleasure of indulging today. Our behaviors hold natural consequences, and it is by God’s grace that he allows us to feel the weight of our sins. Consider whether coveting expensive things will fill you up or deplete you. Consider how the things that go into your body will make you feel in the near future. Natural consequences can be a strong deterrent.
6. Tell a Friend! It’s your story that will become God’s Story. He has a freedom plan for you and is not hung up by our past. When we bring our secrets into the light, the transforming power of the Holy Spirit is already working in us to bring us freedom and to give hope to others. Whether it’s seeking accountability from a friend or seeking professional counsel to overcome a long-term addiction, walking the journey with a trusted friend can make all the difference. God’s desire is that, “we live an abundant life,” John 10:10. While sinful habits may not die easily, we begin by admitting we want change. That determination moves us into victory one step at a time to live a victorious life.