Sunday, June 24, 2012

Breaking Bad Habits (Part 1): Why do we Fail

This past January, as I often do, I set a New Year's resolution to eat healthier and begin exercising.  By mid-February, I panicked realizing that I still hadn't changed anything.  I got my butt into gear and finally began my program.  I worked hard, focused, lost some weight and felt great.  I remember thinking to myself, "Why didn't I do this a long time ago. I haven't felt this good in years."

After about 5 or 6 weeks, my plan derailed and I completely went back to my old, unhealthy lifestyle.  Man, that is so frustrating.  And the worst of it is, this same thing has happened EVERY DARN YEAR for the last 4 years.  Even though I felt better and looked better,  I went backwards and settled into my old lifestyle.

So, WHY do we fail at eliminating our bad habits?

Earlier this month, my brother Lee and I went to a one day conference put on by the Institute of Brain Potential called How the Brain Forms New Habits:  Why Willpower is Not Enough.  It was a very informative and interesting seminar.  The following are the main points that I learned from the seminar.

Once a Habit is Formed, It is Permanently Stored in Your Brain

There is a tiny little structure right in the middle of your brain called the Basal Ganglia that stores any habits that you have learned FOREVER. If you developed a habit of smoking cigarettes, for example, the habit of smoking is stuck in your brain for the rest of your life.

Before you go beating up on the Basal Ganglia, please note that it does serve a very important purpose.  If you learn how to do something useful, in your career or any other area of your life, your brain remembers how to do it for the rest of your life.  Even if you have not tried it for years, you can always pick that function up again fairly easily.  Two great examples of this are snow-skiing and bike riding.  Once you know how to do them, your body always knows how to do them. 

Interestingly enough, this tiny brain structure is located at the very core of your brain. Obviously God didn't want it to be easily disrupted.

Because of the Basal Ganglia, overcoming bad habits is almost always a life-long endeavor.

If we don't act out on a bad habit for a long time, what makes us go back to it?

According to the presentation by the Institute for Brain Potential, there are two main causes for Bad Habit Relapse.


When we are over-stressed, we often resort back to our bad habits because they give us some  
temporary relief from the Stress.

The presenter first referred to this as Reward Deficiency, but then admitted that what it really is is boredom.  When we are bored, the amount of dopamine floating around in our brain is low.  Our bad habits give us a little jolt of dopamine, which brings us out of boredom.


So there you have it.  I hope you gain a little more insight into why bad habits are so hard to overcome.  As I finish writing this article, it is 11:30 PM and my stomach is stuffed to the max from the Chinese Buffet we ate at tonight.  Obviously, knowledge about bad habits alone does not eliminate them....

In Part 2, we will discuss some practical tips for overcoming bad habits.

What about you?

Do you have trouble overcoming bad habits?  Are they always there to pester you when you are stressed out or bored?

Information about the seminar I mentioned can be found at:

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Fear of Being Real

Each time he said, "My grace is all you need.  My power works best in weakness."  So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. (2 Corinthians 12:9) NLT

This last March, my wife Missy and I attended a conference for parents with children with special needs.  Our son, Devan, is on the autism spectrum.  One session during the conference really stuck out to both us and made a profound difference in our lives.

The room was full with standing room only.  About 75 parents sat in the audience.  In the front of the room was a stage with three sets of parents.  Each set were the parents of a child with special needs  but they were all at different points on the journey.  One by one, each person on the stage shared their personal journey through parenting a special needs child.  They shared the deep stuff such as grief, depression and the marital problems that they had went through in their journey.

Something amazing happened in that room that day.  As each person dropped their mask and shared their real self, a spirit of hope, compassion and empathy filled the room.  Everyone in that room could relate to what was being said and for a moment, we all felt connected.

Moments like this don't happen very often, but when they do, they have a profound effect on everyone involved.  Sharing your weaknesses with others can certainly be scary. We all have a natural tendancy to only show our best to other people. We want people to think that we have it all together. We do not want to be seen as weak, insecure or vulnerable.

The problem is that we really can't relate to each other very well, especially spiritually, if we are hiding our weaknesses.  God's spirit flows through vulnerability.  In other words, vulnerability is the fuel that moves God's spirit from one person to another. 

Being vulnerable and transparent can be a bad thing.  We certainly don't want to go around telling everybody everything about us.  What we tell others can be used against us so we want to be careful.  When the right time arrives, however, and you can connect with someone spiritually by being real,  take that chance.  You may just find a life-long friend in the process.

What about you

 Are you afraid to show your real self?  Do you cover up your weaknesses and try to only show your strong points?  Is there someone in life that you could really help by sharing your own struggles?

Sunday, June 10, 2012

A Slice of Time

Slowly but surely, she pushed her new wheelbarrow down the sidewalk.  In the wheelbarrow, a purple shovel with a pink handle bounced around, forcing Addy to balance the wheelbarrow as she pushed along.  The shovel was a gift from her mom so she could help dad 'work' outside. 

"Daddy, Let's go find some rocks", she said as she came close.

"Honey, Dad is busy", I mumbled, as I gave her a quick glance trying not to lose my concentration on the flat wheelbarrow tire I was trying to remove.

"Please, daddy", she pleaded.

With a frustrating sigh, I looked over at her and said: "Alright, but just for a few minutes."

An hour later, we finally strolled back up the sidewalk to the house with a load of rocks to proudly present to mommy and big brother. 

I had no idea that the few minutes that I had promised Addy had turned into an hour.  She had worked hard digging and prodding with her colorful shovel.  I helped with the ones that were too tough for her.  We talked, laughed and enjoyed our time together.  I will probably never forget that evening.

We really have no idea how many of those moments we will have with our loved ones.  Moments when we are alone, the world is quiet around us, and we can just be together. 

With all of the distractions and responsibilities in my life, I rarely focus on the moment and be fully present with the people around me,  forgetting all else, and taking in the moment.  Like I mentioned, it rarely happens,  but it does sometimes, which I see as a major blessing in my life.

What About You?

Could you set all of your worries and concerns aside, every once in a while, and focus on the time you have with a loved one?  Would your life and your close relationships be enriched if you would allow yourself to do this?

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Freedom to Fail

And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.  Philippians 1:6 (NLT)

As a recovering perfectionist, the thought of failing at anything in life makes my skin crawl.  Failure has always horrified me.  I want to succeed.   I want to win.  I want to be PERFECT.

While growing up, I often thought that being a perfectionist was a positive character trait.  I thought that having this trait meant that you were driven and were not going to allow failure in any area of your life.

There is one little issue, however, in expecting perfection.  We are HUMANS.  Humans are not perfect and WILL Fail.  As my drive for perfection increased, my peace of mind decreased.  Every time I would fail, I would throw up my arms and give up.  My thought was, if this plan led to failure, then obviously the whole plan is worthless. 

This cycle of making a plan, failing, completely changing plans, failing again, and then finally giving up has shown up in nearly every area of my life. A great example of this was dealing with weight loss.  I would come up with a great plan of how I was going to eat healthy and exercise.  I would run this plan through my mind over and over again tweeking every little detail until the plan was perfect.  I would then start the plan, have a small failure during the first couple of days, and then give up in disgust.  At the first failure, I would decide that the plan was doomed and give up on the entire thing.

As I look back, the flaws in my thinking were obvious.  Who am I to think I can do something perfect?  Do I think I am God?  Nobody ever does anything well, let alone perfect, the first time.  Highly successful people know that failure is part of life and actually use it to gain even more success.

Finding this acceptance of imperfection has been one of the most liberating experiences of my life.  It is actually one of the biggest reasons why I had the guts to start this blog.  I know that I have a long ways to go to become a good writer.  I have so much to learn and know that I will FAIL a number of times as I work on it.  I also know, however, that if I keep working at it and learn from my mistakes, I will get better. 

This is how I found The Freedom to Fail :

1) Accept that I am a HUMAN BEING and that all human beings FAIL sometimes.

2)  Realize that Failing is actually one of the most effective ways that God teaches us.

3)  Understand that Jesus was the only person who ever lived a perfect life.

4)  Accept that if I am trying to be PERFECT, then I am trying to play GOD.

5)  Believe that if I have a relationship with HIM, then I am perfect in GOD'S EYES, despite my 

6)  Believe that if I am already perfect in God's eyes, I have the FREEDOM TO FAIL in this life.

Failing is just part of the human experience.  If we never fail, then we never learn.  If we never learn then we never succeed.

What About You?  Do you expect perfection out of yourself?  Would accepting your Freedom to Fail help you relax and try new, challenging or scary things in your life?