Back in January. I decided that I wanted to focus this year on building better habits. Maybe you experienced this too, the whole world shut-down, pandemic situation has allowed me to develop some less than useful habits. Not habits that were necessarily bad or sinful, but habits that were not overly productive, especially if you’re working outside of your home or trying to maintain relationships with more than the three people you’re allowed to see on a regular basis. I allowed myself, for example, to exercise a little less, move a little less, but eat a little more. (Which did not produce results I’m all that happy with). I could justify little habits of laziness; after all, we are all “just trying to get through this however we can”.
But these habits don’t serve me well in the big picture. I want to equip myself successfully complete my goals!
So, in January I realized that I needed some new habits. As I do with everything, I began looking for books that would help me. (This is how I tackle most problems, by finding a book.) I found Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey.
I thought this was going to be a quick read. I was going have my list of habits to work on, and then I’d get to work. Early in reading, I discovered that my thinking was all wrong in general. One of the reasons we don’t maintain good habits is that we have that task oriented approach. I’m just going to make a list and I’m just going to do it. I needed to consider the why behind my habits (good and bad) before attempting to change them.
Which brings me to what I have been thinking about for the last several months: rather than being task-oriented and focusing on what I do (or don’t do), I have been evaluating why I do these things. I’ve been looking at the paradigms and principles behind my actions.
Covey defines paradigms as the road maps that we use to navigate life. “Our paradigms, correct or incorrect, are the sources of our attitudes and behaviors, and ultimately our relationships with others.” (Covey, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People). Habits come from our paradigms. “And our attitudes and behaviors grow out of those assumptions. The way we see things is the source of the way we think and the way we act” (Covey, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People).
Principles, Covey writes, “are natural laws that cannot be broken.” Under principles, Covey names ideas such as fairness, honesty, and human dignity. Our paradigms should come out of these principles. If principles and paradigms align, we are able to build good habits and maintain them. If they don’t align, we will likely struggle with consistency in our habits.
As a Christian, I want God’s way of viewing the world to shape how I view the world. Said another way, I want my paradigms to align with principles from Scripture. This is often termed having a biblical worldview.
When I stopped to evaluate those “bad” habits that I want to change, I discovered some perceptions hidden in my mind that did NOT align with Scripture (sneaky little paradigms!). Most self-indulgent behaviors (like bingeing just one more episode) came with the thought “I deserve this” or “I need this.” Really? Do I need to watch more tv? Probably not. When I over-commit myself, saying yes to everything, the underlying thought is, “If I say no, they might think poorly of me.” When I am struggling, I don’t ask for help because I have convinced myself that asking for help is a form of failure.
In her book “Enough about Me,” Jen Oshman addresses other paradigms that sneak into our minds. “The “believe-in-yourself gospel” is wreaking havoc on the church, especially in women’s ministries. This false gospel says God wants you to be happy, you are enough just the way you are, and it’s up to you to reach within to make yourself successful and satisfied.” Believing that I can make myself successful, satisfied, and happy if I just try hard enough leads to me being overly tired, unsatisfied, and disappointed. Peace comes when I stop trying to “be” everything and let God work instead!
Good habits are essential, but the beliefs and thoughts that produce them are the higher priority. We are exposed to conflicting paradigms every day, and when we aren’t paying attention, they slip in and corrupt our view of ourselves and the world. We have to stay aware, evaluating our perspectives and comparing them to Scripture.
“We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ…”2 Corinthians 10:5
More important than “what” we are doing is the “why” behind that choice. Let’s strive to align every choice with the Truth of God’s Word.