Sunday, January 1, 2017

Habit Shmabit....

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, present your requests to God.
Philippians 4:6

I’m listening to a book on Audible about habits. I just started it yesterday, so clearly, I’m already an expert. ;) But seriously, I learned a lot from just one day of listening. Habits form initially as the gray matter of the upper brain makes conscious decisions about something. Then, as time goes on and the behavior is repeated, a pathway is created in a more primitive part of the brain called the basal ganglia. This pathway, called a “habit loop,” consists of a cue, a pattern of behavior and a reward. Once the basal ganglia forms the habit loop, the pattern becomes like “second nature.” It becomes a part of our person- for better or for worse- and the upper brain is then free to solve new problems or design new thoughts.

Another thing that I learned is that habits come in many varieties- they can be outward behaviors like exercising, smoking or watching Netflix. They also can be thought processes or emotional habits, and this is the type that I’m exploring more deeply today.

I woke this morning at 6:30, as I do almost every morning (if I don’t wake considerably earlier than that), and I began to think about a particular situation that causes me to feel sadness and worry. I generally lay in the bed thinking about this for a long time- until I have to get up and start the day, or I become so overwhelmed with the sadness and worry, that I crack open my journal and Bible and pray. My journal is absolutely filled with prayers about this one particular situation.

And here, on this first day of 2017, I think I’m beginning to understand why. I’m in an emotional habit loop. I started this loop long ago, I don’t even remember when exactly. But based on what I'm learning about habits, I would say that this habit probably started when I had to consciously think about this situation a lot due to some changes going on in our lives in late 2015/early 2016. I would think and pray and talk things through with God in the morning hours. Often that time helped me have self control over my overflowing emotions, and also led into some really productive conversations with Andy. Together, we agreed to seek some professional counseling, and that proved to be one of the most fruitful events of 2016 for our little family. Praise God. The situation didn't go away, but how we approach it has changed. It's still sad, but we did our best before God and man.

So there's really no need to take the habit loop into 2017 with me. This habit might have started out by providing me an emotional outlet for all I was feeling, but now it just brings unfruitful worry and heaviness that sometimes spiral into anxiety. God doesn't want that for me. He knows how anxiety hurts his children.The situation has been dealt with as best we could, but in my emotional habit loop, I begin to fret and feel sad over the end result, which I have no control over. No good can come of this, and it only steals time that could be much better spent. I could get up, for instance, and fill my gratitude journal. Or, I could remember the friends that I’ve promised to partner with in prayer. Or I could just pray faithfully about the exciting and big events coming up in our lives this year- purchasing our first home! My brother’s wedding! Story’s continued spiritual, emotional and physical growth! I could write, read or do yoga. There are a lot of exciting possibilities for new habits that can replace this old one. I'm going to continue to listen and learn and pray and hopefully there will be something new that sinks in and takes over my primitive brain that brings God the gratitude that He deserves and grows my faith in Him.

Lord, as this new year begins, I need your help. I’m “stuck” in a negative emotional habit loop. I wake up and worry and waste time about something that I’ve prayed and prayed and prayed about, but have no control over and cannot change. Lord, please help me to create a new habit this year, one in which I wake each morning and start the day with thanksgiving. Please let this new habit create space in my mind to creatively worship you and offer up sincere prayers for the people who are precious to me. I pray these things in your name, Jesus. Amen.

The book I'm listening to is: The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg