(image source: http://pathwaysplettrehab.co.za)
I spoke a little on our tendencies to form a habit of having habits, and how this is just a natural way for us to function as humans. There are good habits, and then there are bad habits. Now the nature of a habit is that it is something (a thought pattern leading to an action) that remains the same and is perpetual. This is all OK as long as the habits are good. But what happens when a bad habit entrenches itself in our way of doing things and we want to get out of it?
In essence we can say that a perpetual habit is an addiction. The English dictionary defines a habit as “a usual way of behaving : something that a person does often in a regular and repeated way”; and an addiction is defined as “a strong and harmful need to regularly have or do something, or, an unusually great interest in something or a need to do or have something.” Usually the word addiction is used in a negative context, but I would suggest that it can also be seen in a good way. But for now, let us assume that addiction is equal to a bad habit and explore that thought a little more.
When we struggle with an addiction and we are trying to break it, often it seems like an impossible task. It may seem that the harder we try to break that addiction, the more we fail. The reason is not that we are weak, or that we have some internal flaw, or in the worst case, that we are a lost cause. No! The struggle we experience is because of our natural strength – the strength in our natural ability to form habits. To overcome a bad habit, we simply need to find a way to redirect our attention to ensure that a temporary weakness can be turned into a strength. Truth is, once a habit is formed, our brain struggles to give up on it. In fact, it becomes a security force all by itself protecting that habit from being tampered with. After all, it has taken years to form this habit and the return on investment (from the brain’s point of view) must be protected and nurtured. This is why breaking a habit is hard.
Our natural ability to form habits is a great gift. Observe a child when they first learn to walk, ride a bicycle or write their name. At first it is a struggle, sometimes causing heart palpitations for parents, but with each attempt an initial “failure” becomes progressively confident until running and cycling becomes a habit, or what we like to call, “second nature.” In the case of an addiction this gift and strength works against us, but we can turn it around again. It’s like learning to walk all over again. Someone once said that addiction is our brain’s habit formation tendency on steroids.
So, where to from here? We must remember that bad cannot be fought with bad, but that bad must be offset with good. First we need to identify what prompts the bad habit, or what brings the bad habit out in us; then find just one thing opposite to that prompting and start practicing it. I know this sounds like pop-psychology, or some flimsy self-help advice, but regardless, it is a step in the right direction.
I have found in the past that surrounding myself with good friends is a great help. And on this journey there is simply no one better than the Lord (if you remember the advice from my friend David). Why? Well, He is there to listen, to hear, to protect and to provide. He listens to my pleas for help, He hears my mutterings of failing, sees the tears of shame, but comes close and provides a way out.