To try to develop the “Fruits Of The Beatitudes” is one’s life, the April 2016 post of the “Life’s Deep Thoughts” blog discussed the latest behavioral research about forming a ‘good’ habit. The “reminder” has cited as the critical ‘component’ in forming a new habit. It was also mentioned by psychologists that is usually takes a minimum of 21 days to form a new habit, with “more ingrained” habits taking multiple months—or sometimes years—to make a change “automatic.”
The Bible also has a bit to say about changing bad habits, but has a little different ‘focus’ on why we have them—our “sinful nature.” But, there is ‘hope’! God very much wants to help us change—we just have to ‘surrender’ ourselves to Him so He can change our ‘hearts’.
We are creatures of habit—those repetitive, involuntary response patterns that we do automatically or without thinking.
Although we live much of our lives according to our habits, we are still ‘responsible’ for what we do and what we do not do. Some habits emerge without any thought and through mindless actions, while others—mostly the ‘good’ ones—are formed only through deliberate effort. We are more than our habits, but certainly not less.
Ted Pollock, an expert in behavior psychology, states: “Deliberately training yourself into good habits requires stern self discipline at first. But since those habits become second nature, the payoff is considerable. Good habits save effort, ease routine, increase efficiency and release power.” See, what you need to grasp is that you are today the ‘total’ of your good habits and your bad habits. Who you will become—the person you will be 5, 10, or 20 years from now—by and large, will be because of your habits. What you repeatedly do—what you spend time thinking about and doing each day—ultimately forms the person you are, the things you believe, and the personality that you portray.
Benjamin Franklin made an ‘equation’ about all of this. He said, “If you take all your good habits in your life, subtract them from all your bad habits, it equals your contribution to society.” Hmmmm…an interesting thought!
The thing is, your brain can’t tell the difference between good and bad habits—so if you have a bad one, it is always ‘lurking’, waiting for the right cues and rewards to ‘show up’. Both virtue and vice can be ‘packaged’ within habits so that, to some degree, both positive and negative actions can be done on a near-subconscious level. Habits can be ‘tricky’ things.
When a habit ‘emerges’, the brain stops participating fully in the decision making process, and then diverts its focus to other tasks. So, unless you deliberately ‘fight’ a habit, or find new routines, the habit pattern will ‘blossom’ automatically.
Most of us tend to continue acting as we have acted in the past. Like a river flowing through a canyon, the longer a habit continues, the more deeply ‘ingrained’ it becomes, and the harder it is to change. This is true of all habits, good or bad. The thing is, regardless of the type of habit it has become, it can always be changed. It’s all up to your choice and commitment!
So, what if you want to form a new habit to ‘IMPROVE’ YOURSELF? How would you go about doing it?
Well, it turns out that there’s a ‘framework’ that can help you develop new habits to improve everything in your life—emotions, health, career, finances, personality, relationships, and spirituality.
Every habit you have—good or bad—follows the same 3-step ‘pattern’, or what has been called the “habit loop.” The following is a specific pattern I found called the “3R’s of Habit Change” (Source: “Transform Your Habits” by James Clear):
– Reminder (the trigger that initiates the behavior)
– Routine (the behavior itself; the action you take)
– Reward (the benefit you gain from doing the behavior)
An example might be that your phone rings (reminder). This is the prompt or ‘trigger’ that starts the behavior. You answer your phone (routine). This is the actual behavior. Then, you find out who is calling (reward). The reward is the benefit gained from doing the behavior. (You want to find out why the person is calling you—discovering that some ‘information’ was the reward for completing the habit). If the reward is positive, then you’ll want to repeat the routine again the next time the reminder happens.
There’s a lot of science behind this process of habit formation, proven over and over again by behavioral psychology researchers. So, you can be relatively confident that your habits will follow this same ‘cycle’.
So then, how can you use this ‘pattern’ to create new habits that actually ‘stick’?
Well, since memory will fail you, that’s why the ‘REMINDER’ is such a critical part of forming new habits. A good reminder does not rely on motivation and it doesn’t require you to call to mind to do your new habit.
A good reminder makes it easy to start by ‘encoding’ your new behavior in something that you already do. (Setting up a visible reminder and linking your new habit with a current behavior makes it much easier to change).
If you want to start a new habit, it’s best to start ‘small’, then build up to the level of performance that you want once the behavior becomes consistent.
It is also strongly advised that you do things that make you “feel good”—because an action needs to be repeated for it to become a habit. We learn to ride a bicycle by forcing ourselves to practice, even when it feels unnatural and uncomfortable. But repetition produces a habit that then feels natural and enjoyable. Also, only try to change habits that are important to you. It’s tough to follow through when you’re simply doing things because other people say they are important.
Experts say that ‘easy’ habits take six to eight weeks to develop—though some behaviorists say three months will make it become pretty automatic. Some ‘very difficult’ things can take months and sometimes years to change.
Well, the Bible also has a bit to say about changing bad habits—with a little different ‘focus’ on why.
In the Bible, the apostle Paul mentions some of the ‘major’ bad habits that I think most of us can ‘identify’ with at least one of them: “When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God” [ Galatians 5:19-21 ]. Wow…very encompassing and to-the-point—with a pretty ‘shocking’ outcome!
But, there’s ‘hope’! The thing is, God WANTS VERY MUCH to help us change: “If you commit yourself to the Lord and trust Him, He will accomplish His will for you. No matter how strong a temptation you face, no matter how long you have practiced a sin, if God says to change, you can change” [ Psalm 37:5 ]. We just have to ‘surrender’ our will to Him, and allow Him to change out ‘HEARTS’—which are those ‘hidden intentions’ which will eventually serve as the basis for our actions (“For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.” – Proverbs 23:7). In reality, only you and God really know the thoughts of your heart. Consequently, attitude is something that only you and God can ‘work out’—a change which must take place ‘inwardly’.
God has been very ‘serious’ about helping people change their ‘hearts’ for many, many years! About 1,000 years before the birth of Jesus, King Solomon, purported to be the “wisest man that has ever lived,” said: “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (Proverbs 4:23), and “I have stored up your Word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11).
About 400 years after Solomon, God ‘instructed’ Jeremiah to remind His people that He really wanted to restore their ‘hearts’: “I will give them a heart to know Me, for I am the LORD; and they will be My people, and I will be their God, for they will return to Me with their whole heart” [ Jeremiah 24:7 ].
In Jesus’ time, the apostle Matthew was ‘prompted’ by the Holy Spirit to write: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21) and “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). Luke poignantly reminded us that “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks” [ Luke 6:45 ].
After Jesus returned to Heaven, the apostle Paul again encouraged all Christians that God was REALLY SERIOUS about helping people change their ‘heart’: “And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with His love” (Romans 5:5). God did something REALLY SPECIAL by ‘giving’ Christians the Holy Spirit and to have Him ‘indwell’ us!
So, how does God go about changing your ‘heart’? Well, first off, He focuses on His ‘children’—someone who has ‘surrendered’ their life to His Son, Jesus, thus making peace with Him. [ More about this in a previous Life’s Deep Thoughts post:
Right when one becomes a child of God, they have “become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” [ 2 Corinthians 5:17 ]. Moreover, God says He will “give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” [ Ezekiel 36:26 ]. God also ‘sends’ the Holy Spirit to ‘live inside’ you, to be your helper, comforter, and advocate—teaching you everything you need to know about how to live a godly life (John 14:26).
[ NOTE: If you, at this time, would like to become a child of God, a suggested “reconciliation” prayer is below ].
Just as psychologist Ted Pollock stated previously, discipline is also crucial to the Holy Spirit in developing the “habits of holiness” or spiritual disciplines in you—habits that reflect the godly virtues found in Jesus Himself. They are not, however, the mere ‘product’ of human strength and desire. Godly habits are initiated, carried out, and matured through the ‘sanctifying’ work of the Holy Spirit. They are the ‘fruit’ of the Spirit, and are ‘worked out’ in our lives—not as erratic psychological and sudden impulses, but growing, settled dispositions and attitudes, showing forth and leading to the transformation of one’s character.
Therefore, we are to ‘cooperate’ with the Spirit in striving to see these traits developed in us, since we are all a bit ‘obstinate’: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds” [ Jeremiah 17:9-10 ]. If we allow Him to, the Holy Spirit will train us to reject godless ways and worldly desires, and to live loving, self-controlled, and ‘fruitful’ lives.
So then, how does one develop these characteristics?
Well, all the good attitudes in the world will not get the job done until we follow through with action. God does not promise change will be easy, but He promises it is possible if we work diligently, according to His Word, with the help of the Holy Spirit.
Also, knowing ‘what’ changes to make is not enough—we also need to know ‘how’ to make them. This is because of our “old nature.” Therefore, the apostle Paul instructs us to: “Throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, to be made new in the attitude of your minds” [ Ephesians 4:22-24 ].
The apostle Paul also counsels us that the “renewing of our minds” (Romans 12:2) will transform our thoughts, and, in turn, transform our habits. Ralph Waldo Emerson said it well like this: “Sow a thought and you reap an action; sow an act and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and you reap a destiny.” The ‘destiny’ for a Christian is Heaven, but God is preparing us for that by ‘refining’ our character—to be one that is like Jesus’—changing our ‘bad’ habits to ‘good’ ones.
Change does not come easily, and that’s why the apostle Paul was so adamant about what it will take to change ourselves: “Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness. For bodily discipline is of little profit but godliness is profitable for all things since it holds a promise, not only for the present life, but also for the life to come” [ 1 Timothy 4:7-8 ]. Paul is saying that, just like an athlete goes into training to develop the habit of running or getting stronger, you will also need to develop the habits of becoming a godly person.
Christ-like character is the ultimate goal of a Christian. To settle for anything less is to miss the whole ‘point’ of life. We are to “become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:1). The reason it is life’s most important ‘task’ is because it is the only thing we will ‘take’ with us into eternity! Jesus made it quite clear in His Sermon on the Mount—specifically in the “Beatitudes”—that eternal rewards in Heaven will be based on the character we develop and demonstrate here on Earth (“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” – Matthew 5:3).
As has been mentioned in the previous three posts, if you want to know what Christ-like character looks like, the “bread and butter” is through the heartfelt, sincere, and ongoing practice of certain God-centered disciplines—and the best place to start is the list of nine character qualities Paul enumerates in Galatians 5:22-23: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” The “fruit of the Spirit” is a perfect ‘picture’ of Jesus—He ‘embodied’ all nine qualities—and if you’re going to develop His character, you too must strive to have these qualities in your life.
All this might sound like it’s going to be a tremendous ‘effort’ to attain. Well, in addition to the ‘internal’ help of the Holy Spirit, God has ‘provided’ an ‘external’ help—the Church—‘commanding’ us to meet together regularly to actively support and encourage each other (1 Thessalonians 5:11). The poet John Donne said it succinctly: “No man is an island.” He was trying to say that humans can not get along with their lives alone and succeed—we are all dependent on other people and we need them. We can’t thrive by being alone.
The importance of community in helping overcome negative habits is highlighted in the book, “The Power of Habit.” Author Charles Duhigg states: “The evidence is clear: If you want to change a habit, you must find an alternative routine, and your odds of success go up dramatically when you commit to changing as part of a group. Belief is essential, and it grows out of a communal experience, even if that community is only as large as two people.” That’s also the reason that many recovery programs include group meetings and individual ‘sponsors’ to help people successfully change.
This is completely consistent with a Christian ‘ethic’ which calls upon Christians to confess their sin to one another, to pray for one another, and to bear one another’s burdens. This is never more important than when trying to overcome sinful patterns of behavior.
In addition to this, the Bible ‘reinforces’ the communal experience: “let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another” [ Hebrews 10:24-25 ].
So, get yourself a ‘buddy’. By both giving and receiving support, you keep your goal in focus. Being accountable to a friend (in person or virtual) is a powerful incentive to keep you ‘on track’.
[ NOTE: If you want, I can be your ‘virtual’ buddy—e-mail me. Also, if there is a bit of interest, I can create a blog and/or Facebook Page so everyone can share their successes ].
So, if you DESIRE TO HAVE the attitudes and character of Jesus, you may want to consider using the “FRUITS OF THE BEATITUDES” PLACARD that I offered last month:
In addition to that, you may also want to do what the ‘experts’ say is the best way to change a habit—a ‘reminder’ and deliberate effort. So, to help you with that, I can send a VISIBLE ‘REMINDER’ to your e-mail on a daily basis.
[ NOTE: Get FREE daily ‘reminders’ of the “FRUITS OF THE BEATITUDES.” You will receive three Beatitude/fruit of the Spirit ‘pairings’ each day (just two simple ‘phrases’)—one at 8 am, one at 12:00 noon, one at 4 pm (EST)—to give you that ‘REMINDER’ that is essential to making a ‘positive’ change in your life. Click here to get them:
EMAIL: Fruits Of The Beatitudes-Daily EMAIL Reminders
(Tell me if you would rather receive a text message).
FYI: They start on the 1st of the month and end on the 10th of the month. Since habits usually take at least 21 days to ‘stick’ (and sometimes longer), the reminders will then ‘restart’ from the beginning on the 11th through the 20th—and then from the 21st to the 30th. (You will get a ‘special’ message on those months with 31 days). Also, I will not send you anything else (not related to the “F.O.T.B.”), I will not ‘share’ your e-mail address with anyone else, and you can unsubscribe at any time ].
As was said in the beginning of this post, an action needs to be repeated for it to become a habit—from six weeks to three months to make a habit become ‘automatic’—and it has to be ‘positive’, so you’ll want to repeat the routine again the next time the reminder happens. So, try taping the ‘placard’ on to your bathroom mirror, and get the e-mail reminders. For those who ‘belong’ to Jesus and being ‘controlled’ by the Holy Spirit, forming new ‘good’ habits then becomes a way of life.
Yes, doing these ‘actions’ will ‘improve’ yourself, but God has a more ‘significant’ reason—to help you to be ‘CONFORMED’ INTO THE LIKENESS OF JESUS—in your character, conversations, and conduct—such that, when you meet someone, they sense that they have ‘experienced’ the love of Jesus ‘through’ you!
Now, let me be clear that all this IS NOT ABOUT ‘WORKS’—that if you ‘do’ all these things that God will allow you into His Heaven. That’s what Jesus did on the cross for you—a substitutionary ‘payment’ for all of your sins, past present and future. That’s what Easter is all about!
But, the Bible does say that a Christian should DESIRE TO BECOME LIKE JESUS—and the “fruit of the Spirit” is a representation of His character, and the “Beatitudes” are a representation of His attitudes.
So, let’s BECOME CHRIST-LIKE TOGETHER—and share this with someone that you think might want to ‘buddy up’ and do this with you!