Changing Habits – Weakness into Strength

So, this year, I’ve been trying to focus on discipline. There are goals that I have for the year. I’d like to lose weight. I’d like to begin learning Italian. I’d like to create some artwork and write. I’d like to be a better mother, wife, daughter, and friend. You know…I want to be a better human, in general.

As I’ve pondered my goals, I’ve come to the realization that I don’t want to merely do a bunch of stuff, but I want to become a better person. So, I’ve been addressing habits. Since the beginning of the year, I’ve been making new, good habits (21 days at a time). It has been going really well.

Recently, I picked up a book: The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhrigg. It has been a fascinating read.

There is one concept I found especially interesting:

“…You can never truly extinguish bad habits.

Rather, to change a habit you must keep the old cue, and deliver the old reward, but insert a new routine.

That’s the rule: If you use the same cue, and provide the same reward, you can shift the routine and change the habit. Almost any behavior can be transformed if the cue and reward stay the same.” – Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business.

So…here’s the thing, we all have habits. And unfortunately, some of our habits are bad. We crack our knuckles, or bite our nails. Or maybe stop at McDonald’s on the way home from the supermarket. Habits that have been deeply engrained are difficult to stop because our brains are used to seeing the cue (the golden arches), performing a routine (stopping at the drive-thru), and then receiving a reward (a nice snack). We may make the choice to pass McDonald’s, despite the craving. And it is kind of hard – harder than it should be, right? We pass it, and think of the golden fries. The greasy burger-ish thing. Even though we know that the food is less than desireable, our mouths water, and we try to congratulate ourselves for not giving in.

Perhaps there is a better way.

Perhaps, instead of using will power to give up (usually temporarily) a habit, we use our will power to change it.

For example, we go to the supermarket, purchase a fruit that can be eaten in the car, and when we pass the golden arches, we get that cue, our mouths water, and we unpeel a banana. It may not be quite what our mouths expect, but it will still deliver the reward: a tasty snack. Plus, we will feel the added reward of making a good choice and eating a healthy food. Soon, the habit will be Golden Arches → Bananas!

As I have contemplated this idea, the thought came to me I recognize this concept…

“And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.” – Ether 12:27

The Lord teaches us here that we don’t have to give up our weak things on our own. He doesn’t expect us to abandon our bad habits – leaving the void of cravings or possibly addiction and the probability of relapse. He understands how our brains work.

He will show us our weak things, and through His grace, He will make our weak things strong. The habits that we make can be shifted. Instead of “rewiring” our brains, we just learn how to change the routine. We learn how to make the habit: the cue, routine, and reward something that enriches our lives rather than depletes it.

Shifting our habits – making our weak things strong – is difficult work, but we can accomplish this if we humbly remember the Lord. Through his grace and strength, he will help us.

I’m so grateful for the gospel. It gives me hope. There are times I have felt a little discouraged – it seems like making changes is impossible, but I know that I can learn how to do it. I know that the Lord has blessed me with the tools to overcome. I know that He will help me to create good habits out of pre-existing bad ones.

With the help of the Lord, have you ever made a “weak thing” strong? How did you make the change?

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  1. I had a very bad habit of going to bed late. I would stay up into early morning hours reading. This bad habit started when I was in high school and went on for more than ten years. I would wake up in the morning and feel absolutely WRETCHED, and I would say to myself that I was never going to do that again. And then I would do it again the next night.

    A few years ago, I finally got to the point when I was so tired of the cycle, so demoralized at all my failed efforts to stop, so desperate to change, so bothered by the fatigue and crankiness that was keeping me from doing what I needed to do, that I decided I needed to make a covenant with the Lord to stop staying up so late. It scared me to think of making a covenant because deep down the fallen part of my nature didn’t want to be restricted. But I realized that I was ALREADY restricted–my bad habit was enslaving me–and I wanted to be free of it. So I made a covenant that I would be in bed by 11pm. And I have worked very hard to keep it. I haven’t been perfect at keeping it, but even my imperfection is way better than what I had before. I renew it with the sacrament. I take it seriously. It’s been a big blessing.

    Making covenants can make our weak things become strong.

    Reply

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