Behavior Change

Stuck In Harmful Habits

April 12, 2024
5 minute read
Stuck In Harmful Habits

Our life is composed of millions of choices. Many of those choices are never examined. We operate the way we do because that’s how we’ve always functioned, because we learned it from our family, or because that’s the culture of our work or church. We may ponder really big life decisions like a move, a job change, or a decision with big financial indications, but many of our daily life choices go unchecked.

Choices Are Tied to What We Value

Jesus teaches us to be especially careful about our choices because they demonstrate what we love. First John 5:3 says, “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.” We should make choices through our day because we love God and agree that is how He’s commanded us to function in Scripture because that is what is good for us. All humans were created by Jesus for Jesus, yet humans, starting with Adam in the garden of Eden and on down to you and me, rejected His love and decided to live without godly wisdom and authority defining what is right and good. Those who have accepted the death of Christ as the sacrifice to cover their sin have been given new life[1] and, with that, the capacity to make choices based on righteousness and the truth that is found in Jesus.[2] Gratefulness to Jesus for His salvation and forgiveness leads to a new desire to make choices every day based on love for Him.[3]

Choices Turn into Habits

Choices practiced over time turn into habitual actions we no longer think about. The fact that we are habit driven is a great comfort and tool. We don’t have to think about every little thing we do each time we do it, like getting dressed in the morning or knowing how to brush our teeth. It’s important to remember that our habits do not occur randomly. Instead, they are the natural results of what we believe, how we think, and how we see the world. What goes on inside of us leads to how we function. And how we function leads to the habits that we engage in almost unknowingly.

Habits are Born Out of Worldview

Helpful, fruitful habits of righteousness develop from a godly worldview that is focused on the gospel. When I believe that I was created by and for God, to be loved by Him and to love Him in return by worshipping and enjoying Him and representing Him accurately to the world around me, I will be focused on decisions designed to bring His blessing into my areas of responsibility.[4] My thinking will be informed by the truth that, as God is my Creator, I am accountable to Him, so I fill my mind with His Word and believe what He has told me is right and good.[5] I see that this is God’s world, and He is the King, and I get to live in His world for Him.[6] Because of all of those truths I use my body in a restrained way, seeing my body and behaviors as tools that are used to enjoy God and bring His blessing into His world. It’s amazing to think that my body, weak[7] as it is, can be useful[8] for God and beneficial to those around me. Since that’s true, I’m extremely careful about what I allow myself to be exposed to, because my body is easily prone to habits[9] and will likely be fascinated by pleasure.[10]On the contrary, harmful, destructive habits form from a humanistic worldview where our only goal is to survive a random life as the king of our own domain and free agents independent of any Creator or purpose. If I believe that I am an independent being that was brought into existence by evolutionary random chance, I will be willing to follow any god that will serve me and give me what I want. I will view myself as the master of my own destiny and my feelings will dictate what I think based on my own definitions of right and wrong.[11] If there is no objective truth, I’m accountable only to myself and I will see this world as a place of conflicting hostile forces in which only the fittest survive. I will behave like an instinctual animal dependent upon urges within me that are out of my control. My only purpose will be pleasure, and, since this is as good as it will ever get, I will work hard to make the most of it.[12] Since my body belongs to me, I will use it to make me happy and use my power and control to get what I want. I will laugh in derision against any authority who tries to control me.[13]

Permanent Change is Possible

Harmful habits that develop out of that humanistic worldview can be changed! But the process won’t simply look like working hard to stop doing what is culturally less acceptable to begin doing something that is culturally more acceptable. The root of the problems the humanistic person struggles with isn’t that they are just slightly culturally broken, it is that they are completely dead. Only the gospel can bring new life to someone who is dead in their habits of unrighteousness. Why do dead people keep doing destructive things? Because they don’t know any better.[14] The first step to true lasting change can only come in a person whose soul has been made alive by the mercy of Jesus through faith by grace.[15]When someone has received new life from Jesus, they can also begin to address the habits that were born out of their humanistic worldview and begin to have their mind changed in a way that leads to practicing godly choices.[16] When our minds are changed to believe what God has said is true in Scripture, the way we think and see the world will begin to be more and more consistent with what God has told us is right and good. Our behavioral choices, and thus eventual habits, grow out of that. When we learn how much God loves us, we respond to Him by loving Him with our righteous choices.

Walking In Truth

As you seek to serve a counselee struggling to kill harmful habits and learn and apply God’s truth habitually instead, remember that there are many relationships within the church that can help you. I love having a mentor sit in on counseling sessions to help with accountability through the week. Nothing can replace the truth that will be delivered through the preaching and teaching of God’s Word in your counselee’s regular attendance in a Bible-believing church and faithful attendance in Small Groups, Adult Bible Fellowships, and Bible Studies. There is also much wisdom in helping your counselee think through the other venues where non-biblical beliefs masquerading as truth are delivered to them, through social media, television and movie influence, the arts, friendships, and education. For most, simply learning to engage in new life in Christ and be influenced by God’s truth found in God’s Word will be enough to start seeing drastic changes in harmful habits. In other cases, the harmful habits have become such an ingrained part of life that the introspection available in the life-giving conversations inside of counseling might help to make sense of where change and growth need to happen.

Tools To Foster Change

Because so many of our habits happen without much thought, you might find it helpful to assign a Thought Journal to your counselee. For a specified period of time encourage them to write down everything they think, especially during timeframes that are troubling for them or in which they are engaging in habits they wish to change. Help your counselee to examine the thoughts that have been driving their actions to evaluate who or what they are loving, what they believe and think, and the way they see the world.You could also use a variety of worksheets designed to help your counselee think through challenging situations. The Think, Do, Want Worksheet has been helpful in slowing down and processing through a tough moment to help your counselee figure out why they made the decisions they did in that moment. The Worldview Worksheet helps your counselee examine their behavior, how they see the world, what they are thinking, and what truth they are believing. In addition, the Joyful Journey Podcast “Stuck In Bad Habits” episode might be helpful for further consideration for both you and your counselee.[1] 2 Cor 5:17[2] Eph 4:21, 24[3] Luke 7:47[4] Genesis 1:26-28, Deut 30:20; I Cor 10:31; I Peter 2:9-12[5] Ephesians 4:21; I John 5:3; Deut 30:15-20; 2 Cor 10:3-5[6] Psalm 24:1; Psalm 2:12; Psalm 145[7] 2 Cor 4:11; 2 Cor 5:1-4[8] 2 Cor 5:14-15, 18, 20-21[9] Romans 6:6, 12-14, 16[10] I Corinthians 9:27[11] Gen 3:1-7; Mat 13:13; Deut 29:4; Rom 8:8-9[12] I Cor 2:14; Rev 3:17; Acts 28:26-27[13] Prov 4:14-17; 2 Peter 3:3; I Cor 1:18; I John 2:15-16; John 8:44[14] Ephesians 2:1-3[15] Ephesians 2:4-9[16] Ephesian 4:22-24

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