Old Habits Die Hard (and Other Embarrassing Admissions…)

Bad-HabitsWhy is it so easy to slip into old habits?

Hubby and I have been facing some hard relational times lately, and we seemed to be moving in leaps and bounds. And then, old habits started to pop up. My old habits, mind, not his. Silly habits like not getting up when my alarm goes off, not washing the dishes once they get into the sink, not kissing him at the door. (And before any 50s housewife jokes crop up, try it. It’s amazing the difference in his attitude when I greet him with affection, rather than ignoring him. Strange, that…. )

So, why is it so easy to slip up? And why do we all hide it? I find myself avoiding the truth, hoping that the dishes will magically vanish, or maybe little forest animals will come in and clean them on their own. With all their little grubby hands and disease-ridden feet. Right…

Seriously, though, habits are called habits because they are not easy to break. At least, the bad ones aren’t. For example, I have bitten my nails since I was 3. 3! My parents tried everything down to what I swear to you was jalepeno-spiked nail polish. I’ve tried again and again to stop. Jagged, hurting fingernails are not attractive, practical, or great for back scratches. Unfortunately, that isn’t my only bad habit.

I’m beginning to see that there are two main reasons why we struggle to break our bad habits: we are too focused on the “now,” and we have no self-control or self-discipline.

1. We are too focused on the “now.”

My financial spirit animal of choice, Dave Ramsey, is constantly reminding his listeners and the people who call in that they have to focus past today.* For financial success, you cannot keep your head down and focus solely on the things you need/want today, and hope that there’s a magical pot of gold at the end of life called “Retirement Fund.” The thought is just silly! We logically know that we would need to put money into an account for there to be money when we retire. We know that.

We don’t do that.

A lot of that is because we’re focused on Now and not Later. To go back to my own bad habit, I bite my nails now because they are rough, uneven, or any other excuse I can come up with. I am not thinking about later when my fingers will hurt because I’ve bitten the nails off, or how my hands will look with stubs instead of glorious long nails. Similarly, if I push off exercise because right now I don’t have the time or the energy to do it, I am not focusing on the later of being out of shape and unhealthy.

Every life improvement book I’ve read, whether Christian or not, has advocated for the reader to focus on what’s before them. You want to be in shape? Work towards that goal. You want to stop biting your nails? Work towards that goal. You want to have a better marriage? Work towards that goal. Put up pictures. Write reminders on your mirror. Affirmations. “I don’t bite my nails because I want to have pretty hands.” “I kiss my husband because I want him to know I think he’s sexy.” “I walk every day because I want to lose some baby fat.” They seem so “dur,” but it’s amazing the difference your life has when you start being conscientious about your actions. Suddenly, I catch myself mid-rip of the nail and stop. Grab clippers and a nail file. Fix the problem without making it worse. Is it hard? Oh my gosh, yes. Is it worth it? I don’t know. You tell me. I think it is.

*As a caveat, Dave Ramsey the Spirit Animal ALSO says that sometimes, the only way to survive is in the Now. If huge life events occur, sometimes Later isn’t super important, and it’s ok to just focus on putting one foot in front of the other. Whether it’s the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, injury, sickness, etc: sometimes taking care of the Later looks like surviving the Now. 

2. We have no self-control or self-discipline.

I love waking up early. I love listening to the birds wake up and watching the sky blush first purple, then pink, then orange, and then blue. I love it! I love a good cup of coffee and sitting on my porch. I love the moments of quiet when I can do my Bible Study or read a good book without small children on my mind. Those quiet moments give the rest of my day a quiet strength.

Lately, though, my bed has been comfy. My alarm goes off, my husband rolls out of bed to work, and I stay snug as a bug in a rug in the bed. Even though I know I’ll enjoy the morning more if I get up. Even though I’m racked with guilt for not getting up. Even though I’m probably not even sleeping at this point. I just. Don’t. Want. To.

Most of the bad habits I have, and I’m generalizing this onto all of you, (YAY YOU!) are born out of my lack of self-control. I don’t get out of bed not because I’m exhausted or sleepy, but because I can’t be bothered.

In my marriage, this looks like me not getting up to get dinner started on time, and then getting furious when I burn the rice because I’m trying to cook it fast. Or, when I neglect the sexual aspect of our marriage, and then wonder why my hubby’s all up in my grill with kisses and hugs and wiggly eyebrows. Or, when I snap at my husband for something stupid.

With my kids, it’s the same. Not having the self-control to get off the computer and give them face-to-face time, so they get fussy and grumpy. Not having self-control over my emotions, so snapping at them for little things. Not having self-discipline to plan ahead, so getting annoyed when they act like kids at the doctor’s office.

Self-control, or self-discipline, are two of the hardest attributes I’ve ever encountered. They play off all of the other attributes: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness. Each of those can only exist if a person has: self-control. And self-control is not the same as self-discipline.

Self-control is the first step. It is the mental step. It is waking up, looking at the clock, and saying, “I am getting out of bed, because I know it’s good for me.” Self-control is containing the unhealthy thoughts and emotions, things like envy, anger, lust, jealousy, laziness, and greed.

Self-discipline is the second step. It is the physical step. It is actually getting out of bed. It is continually, day in and day out, walking away from the Oreos, or putting down the iPhone, or popping open that stroller for a walk around the neighborhood. Self-control is just the first facet of discipline. Without both, though, our bad habits sneak back into our lives. (Just ask my flubber blubber. My fingers grab Oreos without a second thought…..)

Today, I’ll be going for a walk with little man #2. Today, my husband helped me wake up, because he knew I didn’t have the self-control or self-discipline to do it entirely on my own. (YAY for awesome Hubby!) Today, I’ll do my best to avoid those daggum Oreos. I’m focusing on the things I can do now, using self-control, to achieve what I want to achieve tomorrow.

What bad habits do you have? How can you focus on later, rather than now? What are your ways to have self-control? Tips? Suggestions?

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