Forming Good Habits

Do you think you need to change any behaviours in your life, whether it be for better health, relationships, finances, attitude or something else?  Any change rarely happens in an instant but more often is the result of changing habits over a period of time.  For example, are you prone to late-night snacking on chocolate? You decide that this is not good for you and you’d like to reduce your chocolate intake. You may resist the temptation once and eat an apple instead but unless you resist the temptation on a regular basis, to the point that there is less temptation to resist, you won’t have formed a habit of curbing those chocolate cravings.

More significantly, let’s think about forming good habits in our relationships. Very often, a significant change in the quality of your relationship can come about by a relatively small adjustment  in practice or attitude. Bigger transformation happens when our heart is changed, but the catalyst for this may well come about from giving up a bad habit and/or taking up a good one. Let’s consider a scenario: John and Sarah disagree on things and it feels like they are never able to resolve these disagreements. Their track record of arguing has led to a deeper rift in their relationship and they both feel like they are treading on eggshells as they don’t want to start another fight. John’s tendency is to rock up to the discussion with all his ammunition at the ready, bull-dozing his way across Sarah’s words, feelings and opinions. There, he said his bit. Boy did he get his opinion across well. That should put an end to this particular disagreement. Meanwhile Sarah shuts down, closes off and puts her defenses up. She is feeling unlistened to, not valued, hurt, ambushed and unsurprisingly, not in the least bit closer to sharing John’s opinion. 

Imagine if John had stopped and asked Sarah what she was thinking? What would this communicate to her?  Respect, value, consideration, a desire to resolve the issue. A small change has a big impact.

Fair enough, nightime nibbling is in a different league to ruinous relationships, but the way we go about making those changes in a way that lasts and has an impact on our quality of life and love can be found in similar practices. So let’s have a think about how we can make our bad habits a thing of yesterday and our good habits a thing of today and tomorrow and the day after and the day after that….

Forming good habits can be hard, especially compared to the apparent ease we create bad ones!

One helpful method is to stack your habits.  Look for patterns in your average day and think how you can tie your new habit to something you have to do anyway.  For example, if you want to get into the habit of a daily check-in conversation with your partner, stack it with something you have to do daily – such as washing up the dishes or over the phone on your walk to work (because you’re walking to work now to stack more exercise with a journey you need to make anyway).

Start small. The bigger the habit, the greater the motivation needed, so scale it down into something achievable and maintainable.

It’s a “don’t run before you can walk” kind of idea. Literally. So if you want to jog 5K every day, start off by jogging for two minutes and build it up. It’s better to build on something small than fall off something big. In your relationship, are you a bit of a moaner?  You could stop yourself saying that small, critical quip to your spouse and say something encouraging instead. Try that for a week and see how things are going.

Another tip to tie in with this is to measure your progress. You could do this using a journal to track your habit, or there is probably an app for whatever it is you want to do!  Maybe you want to read a book a month – you can download something like ‘Good Reads’ for free and log how you’re doing with each book and the overall goal. Do something together with your partner and encourage each other’s progress.

Identify the roots. Very often the presenting issue is not the actual issue. It is helpful to dig a bit deeper and be honest with yourself about why you have got into bad habits. The roots have to be in ourselves – we are not responsible for digging up someone else’s roots or we might feel the need to blame them for our own negative practices. Similarly, when trying to establish good habits, identify the goal which might be the antithesis of the root. 

For example, if you avoid resolving conflict with your spouse, explore why. Do you fear the fallout, do you like to harbour hurt and hold it as a ransom against your partner? Do you find it hard to admit you’re wrong? We’re talking the very end of the bramble here, not just the part that shows.

Remove the obstacles. There’s usually a good reason not to do something that’s a bit of a challenge. We are sensitive to friction in our habits whether it is small or large. So identify the friction and eliminate where possible.  This might be something as simple as choosing a different time of day to do something or taking a slightly different route home so you don’t walk past the cake shop.

It is much harder to do things in isolation so do it in community. This can help with motivation, accountability and developing relationships.  As a couple, do you have other couples you meet with to encourage each other in your marriage? If you want to develop better relationship habits, why not start something like a Together group and go on a marriage enrichment journey together.

As well as doing it with others, how about doing it for others.  Whilst self-improvement is generally a good thing, it can also make you self-focussed rather than other-people focussed. I’m making the assumption here that the former is not a good thing and the latter is! So consider the outward impact of changing your habits.  How can taking up new, good habits (or letting go of bad ones) serve the greater good?  If you’re wanting to make changes in your relationship, then you truly need to let go of meeting your own needs and consider what serves your partner. This is unconditional love in action. If you’re not sure what those needs are, ask them, even that act of asking demonstrates love and commitment and will do wonders for your relationship!

Ok, so here’s a different one to finish up with. Tap into the spiritual. Christians believe that God empowers people through his Holy Spirit. We’re not designed to do things in our own strength but with God’s help. If you want to know more about what living in the power of God’s Spirit looks like in contrast to not, then these verses from  the Bible sum it all up:

So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.  For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever[c] you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery;  idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions  and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.  

Galatians 5:16-23

Click here if you would like to know more about this Spirit-filled life,  or click here to find out more about the Christian faith.

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