How Your Habits can Shape Your Faith
Two days ago I was reading in Proverbs 16—a chapter I've written on before—and I found this one verse that I've read many times before:
It seems normal enough... kind of blends in with every other passage in Proverbs. Except that ever passage is rooted in some practical wisdom that we sometimes don't understand the first time through. This was no exception. I've read it before but it wasn't until I read it that morning that it finally clicked for me. I've been doing a lot of reading and research into behavior and habit building and I've found two very interesting things.
Repetition over time shapes behavior
Some experts say it takes 21 days to build a habit, some say it takes 60... it really doesn't matter what the exact number is. The point of these numbers is to emphasize that repetition over time shapes behavior. Want to get in the habit of journaling for 10 minutes each morning? Set your alarm ten minutes early, put your pen and paper beside your bed and force yourself to journal for ten minutes each morning until it becomes second nature to grab your pen when you wake up. At first, it won't be easy and it won't come naturally. But eventually, it will. Repetition over time shapes behavior.
Behavior over time shapes thinking
At first this seems backwards. Isn't it the other way around—thinking shapes behavior? At first you might think so, but in reality, our actions are often the forerunners of our thought. Growing up we've all heard adults preface some action or decision with, "do as I say not as I do." But inevitably we do as they do, don't we? Why is this? Because actions influence the way we think not the other way around. If our thoughts influenced our action, we'd listen to them and do as they say (thought) not as they do (behavior). This is also why "actions speak louder than words" and "it's what you do when no one is watching that matters."
Like water rushing over a bit of land, over time, actions can wear away a groove in your thinking so that they become regular... habitual... established. So when the writer says "Commit your works to the Lord and your thoughts will be established," he didn't make a mistake... he actually nailed it right on the head. Behavior over time shapes thinking.
I like to read a lot of non-fiction that has to do with succeeding at life. Entrepreneurship, relationships, habits, productivity... I like it all. One common theme that I uncovered in a lot of the books I've read has been this idea of mimicking the behaviors of those you are trying to become like. If you want to become rich, do the things rich people do not the things poor people do. If you want to get fit, do the things fit people do not the things out of shape people do. If you want to get things done, do the things productive people do not the things lazy people do. It's not magic - it's common sense.
What's interesting is that you're encouraged to practice those habits without necessarily knowing why you're doing them. Why? Because in the process of doing, you'll often discover why you're doing it. Let's get back to that Proverb and imagine what would happen if we all decided to mimic Christ. If we mimicked Christ while we read Scripture and prayed, I bet that, in time, you'll find out why He does what He does. And I bet your thoughts will become established in the ways and the heart of God.
If you screw up, keep going. After all... practice makes perfect-ish.