By Nathanael Goh
Recently, I read a self-help book called “Atomic Habits” where I learned how to build good habits and how to break bad ones. I thought this would be something worth sharing from a spiritual perspective but before that, why is building good habits important? Well, habits could either make us or break us. Habits are the little things we do consciously or subconsciously on a regular basis to the point where it becomes quite difficult to give up.
Hence the saying goes “Old habits die hard” because once a habit is developed it becomes hard to break. This is could be either beneficial or hazardous to us depending on how we approach it. The difference between highly successful people and unsuccessful people is the habits they build. Likewise, the difference between the spiritual-minded person and the carnal-minded person is the habits they inculcate.
Even the slightest difference could be the factor why one may lose to the other because when the small differences accumulate over a period of time, it becomes highly significant. Here’s where I would like to also make a brief comparison between motivation and habits. In my opinion, motivation is merely a temporary boost to make us do something at a certain time period and when the motivation dies down, we tend to lose our will to continue. Therefore, that could be the very reason why we fail to achieve certain goals in our lives. Goals are the results you want to achieve, and systems are about the processes that lead to those results. Habits are the systems we need.
In contrast, habits are the things we do repeatedly on a regular basis regardless of how we feel to the point it becomes hard to break. This means that even when we don’t feel like doing something, we will still do it because the habit is already engrained in us. Upon understanding this, I took time to reflect on how I can apply this in my spiritual life or in other words, in the life of a Christian.
As Christians, we must run the race of endurance, one that’s filled with temptations, trials, and tribulations which will test our patience and push us to our limits. With this in mind, we need to develop spiritual habits because there will be times when we are influenced by negative emotions and may make rash decisions. Hence, the spiritual habits we developed will be the anchor of our faith, keeping us on the right track by helping us to stay sober and vigilant. “8 Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8).
The major things that we need to work on as Christians would include prayer (1 Thessalonians 5:17), meditation (Philippians 4:8), evangelizing (Matthew 28:19-20), helping one another physically (1 John 3:17-18) and edification (Ephesians 4:29). We go through lessons on the various actions I mentioned earlier on a weekly basis but knowing is not enough, we must also do lest we deceive ourselves as mentioned in James 1:22, “22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” Now the question is, how do we start a new habit?
To start a new habit, I suggest we start with completing the following sentence: “During the next week, I will partake in at least 20 minutes of reading and meditating on the scriptures (or any of the other actions mentioned earlier) on [DAY] at [TIME] in [PLACE].” It’s important to know that to build a new good habit, we need to start small. We shouldn’t be greedy and start big but end up falling off midway. As mentioned earlier, even two minutes, repeated, over time, can have a huge impact. So, don’t underestimate the power of consistency!
Back when I still had physical classes and had to travel a lot, I thought to myself that I should make full use of the time. So, I told myself that I will read and meditate on the scriptures for at least 30 minutes (as my travel time to campus was almost 2 hours) on the day I have class [DAY] at the time I go to campus [TIME] in the train [PLACE]. This really helped increase my scripture knowledge and nourished me spiritually as I did it consistently for almost a year (I did this during my first year of university before the MCO was implemented).
The next step will be to embrace habit stacking. The habit stacking formula is: “After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT].” For example, after I read the scriptures consistently [CURRENT HABIT], I will pray for the day ahead, pray for good health and safety for my family and friends, pray for the potential truth seekers to have their hearts soften so they are willing to listen to the truth [NEW HABIT] just like what Paul wrote in his epistle to the brethren in Colosse. “2 Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving; 3 meanwhile praying also for us, that God would open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in chains (Colossians 4:2-3).
The key in developing a habit is to change your identity, in thought, and in vocabulary choice. A bad example would be “I’m going to read the bible” because it’s too vague. Instead, we should say “I am a Christian, who appreciates the scriptures and meditate on it regularly.” As a result, some of my friends mentioned how I’m like a walking bible because I often quote book, chapter, and verse instantly when we have our conversations and that’s made possible because I built the habit of reading scriptures on a daily basis. I take it as a compliment and I’m quite happy that I’m able to pinpoint scriptures as it also helps me when I encounter problems in my life. A simple sentence restructuring can reprogram our mindset and our actions for the better, but it can also make it worse. Therefore, be careful with what we fill in our thoughts and vocabulary choice we make.
Then, we need to portray habit development as an attractive process. In this step, include the habit stacking with a habit that you would want to do. The formula: After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [HABIT I NEED]. After [HABIT I NEED], I will [HABIT I WANT]. Include a good habit you would like to have which is one that you will look forward to. The idea is that once you complete the habit, you’re free to enjoy the habit you want.
Fourthly, include habit stacking with habit tracking. The formula: After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [TRACK MY HABIT]. Tracking our habits will remind us to act, keep us motivated as we see our progress and the chances of us not wanting to break the streak is high, it also gives us the satisfaction to record our success in the moment. This phase of habit development focuses on keeping us active and motivated to continue what we need to do.
Finally, we shouldn’t do this alone. We should get our fellow brethren to be our habit partners and to stir each other to do good works. “24 And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, (Hebrews 10:24). It’s crucial to choose who we surround ourselves with as they play a major part in our habit development. Having the wrong company can affect our habits negatively.
In a nutshell, good spiritual habits are essential for us to achieve our spiritual goals as well as to keep us on the right track as we ought to walk worthy of the calling which we were called (Christians). “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, 2 with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, 3 endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3). In addition, to develop a habit, we need to make it obvious, attractive, easy, and satisfying. On the other hand, to break a bad habit we need to do the opposite which is to make it invisible, unattractive, hard, unsatisfying.