It is good to remember that when we speak of habits, we may either be referring to something good or something bad. In the case of the Christian life, we are often speaking of replacing bad habits with good ones. This process is really called repentance, since the bad or sinful habits lead away from God, while the good habits or virtues lead toward God and eternal life.
Many people believe in changing their ways at the beginning of the New Year, but any time is a good time to begin forming a good habit. In fact, the best time to root out the bad and institute the good is always the present moment. Behold, now is the acceptable time, behold now is the day of salvation. (2 Cor. 6:2)
Ten Be-attitudes for developing new habits:
1) Be Patient – Understand that cultivating a new routine will take time. It is encouraging when 21st century Christians find out that what contemporary secular experts discover, using scientific methods, the Church has known and practiced all along. One such recent discovery is that it takes about six weeks, or forty days, to make a certain practice into a habit. The period of forty days has since Old Testament times been that amount of time necessary to prepare for something significant or purge oneself of something negative.
2) Be Realistic – Trying to change too many behaviors at once can back fire on you.
Pick one new positive habit you’d like to develop and stick with that. Many New Year’s Resolutions fail because overly ambitious people who want desperately to change try to do too much all at once. When individuals do this all their good intentions tend to go down the drain before January is even over. For instance a person who is trying to lose weight, launch a new daily devotional routine and do a makeover on their finances all at one time would probably be biting off more than they can chew. Instead of trying to change everything all at once, pick one area to focus on and follow through on changing that one area.
3) Be Concrete – Choose something tangible and measurable to change. It is difficult to assess whether you’ve met a vague goal. For example, instead of deciding indistinctly “I will have a better prayer life in 2009, be as specific as possible. Rather than the loose goal of deciding to “pray every day,” decide to “pray first thing in the morning for 30 minutes” and track your success on your calendar or in your day-timer.
4) Be Intentional – Record your goal and post reminders in places you will see on a daily basis. There are many good places to place a reminder: a post-it note on your bathroom mirror, a note under the magnet on the refrigerator door or a message on the screen saver of your computer monitor. Remind yourself of the commitment to change that you have made.
5) Be Prepared – Make it easier to begin your new behavior by preparing for success ahead of time. Make sure you have all necessary equipment and materials available beforehand. For instance, if you’ve decided to work out twice a week, make sure you have all your work out clothes and necessary items in a bag ready to go the night before your scheduled work-out so that all you have to do is pick up your bag on the way out the door.
6) Be Kind to Yourself – Rewarding yourself with a small reward each time you perform the new habit will help pair it cognitively with positive emotions. In general, research shows that rewards work better than punishments and will be most effective if they occur as soon as possible after each occurrence of the desired action.
7) Be Smart and Link Habits- An effective way to establish a new habit is to pair it with an established habit. This is called the Premack Principle after the Behavioral psychologist David Premack. Premack proved that a frequently occurring action can be used effectively to reinforce a less frequently occurring behavior. For example, if you are trying to remember to drink more water, it is helpful to place your water bottle next to your coffee maker and remind yourself to drink your water before you down your customary “lattes” each morning.
8) Be Accountable – Utilizing a social support system is one of the best ways to establish a new habit. If you make a date to work out with a friend or a bunch of friends it can increase your sense of accountability and help you stay on track.
9) Be Public – One way to further increase your sense of accountability is to tell other people about your efforts. In addition to your accountability partner also announce to others that you are establishing new patterns then it will be even harder to let those new habits slide.
10) Be Gracious to Yourself – When you experience a set-back and fail to practice your new habit, don’t condemn yourself and give-up, give yourself a second, third, fourth or as many chances as needed to get back on track. Stay positive and believe you can change, if you stay proactive and motivated and get right back on task—the change will eventually come!