Approaching Habit Change as a Whole Person

Unrelated photo that made me smile. Thanks to Lex Aliviado on Unsplash.

The things that ought to be done seem the hardest to do. More or less, this is a perennial human problem. The things that don’t need to be done are so much more appealing.

Some of us are perpetual procrastinators. We look at the important things on our to-do list and, almost by instinct, our eyes bounce to the shorter, simpler tasks.

Some of us walk a darker path. Our motivations are trained on the forbidden, and our we find ourselves frighteningly boxed in by destructive habits. But still, we don’t “feel like” changing our ways.

We can say with David, “my iniquities have overtaken me, and I cannot see; they are more than the hairs of my head; my heart fails me” (Psalm 40:12). Many have cried out for God’s deliverance and have experienced his help. But often we slip back into our old ways. Or, we have implemented a practical plan for change, but have been unable to sustain the habits.

The new year – and in this case, the new decade — gets us thinking about how we’d like to improve our lives. Now is the time to kick the bad habits and start the new lifestyle we’ve been eyeing from a distance. What is holding you back? What makes it so difficult?

Two worlds at work

The truth is, we live in two worlds, and any succesful approach to change will acknowledge that. We live in the obvious, tangible world around us. But another, less defined but more powerful world influences us as well. It’s the realm of the unseen, the spiritual, the emotional; it’s the person that you are even if your body changes completely. It’s hard to define, although many seek to clarify it.

Solutions for lifestyle changes often emphasize one reality over the other. “Change your environment to make habit change easier” – this seeks to fix the physical world, but ignores the spiritual. “Be set free from the bonds of sin, and your life will reflect your heart change” – this acknowledges the power of the spiritual but minimizes the practical reality.

We tend to feel more comfortable boiling the issue down to one area, especially one area we have not tried to address before. We seek the missing element that has made positive change so elusive.

In truth, our lives are an interweaving of the two realms. They are inseparable and interdependent.

Our thoughts are the intersection

Perhaps the place where the two worlds interconnect most directly is in our conscious thoughts. For this reason, psychology and self-help methods seek to influence our manner of thinking, to access both the unseen condition within us as well as our day-to-day actions.

If you have bounced from one method of lifestyle change to another, trying to find the plan that will work for you, consider a more integrated approach.

You are a whole being: body, soul, mind, and spirit. Your past experiences, your future hopes, and your present environment all infuence your choices.

The chief command in both Judaism and Christianity is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:4). We must bring all of ourselves to the table in order to fully love God, love those around us, and live the way we’re designed to live.

How to integrate both worlds

So here are some practical ideas for integrating both the unseen and the seen in your life, whether you’re trying to start a new habit or get unstuck from an old way of living.

  1. Say “thank you” to God for 5 things outside of you and 5 things inside of you. (For example, thank him for providing a home for you, and thank him being with you always.)
  2. Consider the various attempts you’ve made to change in the past. What has worked, even if it was temporary? What has helped you to improve even slightly? Think about how the internal and external world have played a role in those attempts.
  3. Visualize yourself on a journey toward the lifestyle you want. Every tiny attempt you make is a step in the right direction. As you journey, you are growing stronger as a person – this is the unseen realm. You also are learning to use tools to help you – this is the physical realm. Express gratitude for the ways your journey has shaped you and for the tools you’ve gained. Ask God for the strength and the tools you’ll need going forward.
  4. Ask someone to pray for the practical stuff. Often, we keep our prayer requests really vague and make them sound holy. We might say, “I want to honor God with my finances,” but what we really mean is, “I plan to give and save more this year, but I’m a habitual overspender. I need God’s help.” Be specific and honest with trusted people.
  5. Think of the times when you deny yourself or do something hard as little gifts to God or to your loved ones. You can even set a timer and say to yourself, “Because I love God, who made my body, I’m going to wait 20 minutes to let this craving pass.” Or write a note, “Dear God, I wanted to demand an apology from my coworker today, but I let it go. That was for you.”

The idea is to integrate your perception of where change comes from. It’s true that your heart needs to change in order for your life to change. That is the unseen world influencing the seen. At the same time, you are continually influenced by the world around you, no matter how strong you are on the inside.

So as you’re seeking out change for this new decade, resist the temptation to boil down your efforts in one realm or the other. You are a whole person. You have the opportunity to love God with your whole self and to share your whole self with others.

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