Have you ever tried to lose weight, change a habit, think differently, start exercising, or any other mental or physical habit? I have with a lot of successes and failures. I have struggled to keep my weight within a reasonable range since I was 18. During the first three months of my freshman year of college, I put on 30 pounds, and it took me the next four years to get them off. I often fluctuate 10-15 pounds one way or the other over a 5-7 year period. For those who know me, you may not have noticed my struggle, and that is because I have continued to monitor it most of my life since college. I remember thinking, when would I reach the age I wouldn’t have to work on it, 65? Well, I passed that milestone years ago, and it is still a struggle.
It takes a big effort for me to start dropping weight. But if I keep at it and get a month behind me, it eventually becomes the new normal. Once the new normal sets in, it no longer takes such an extreme effort to maintain the new normal. It is as if there is a momentum that keeps me from making the desired change, but once it has been solidified in my lifestyle, there is a different momentum that keeps the change in place.
I have written briefly on how I use habits to make up for the lack of discipline in my life. I now want to look at the process of change for personal growth. I could say spiritual growth, but I think most forms of growth we experience are spiritual, as you will see shortly.
The effort of changing mental or physical behavior usually begins with me finally becoming aware that the habit is not helping me grow in my walk with Christ.
Let me caution you, I don’t often use spiritual words to describe things in my life because I think too many Christians don’t think deeply about what they believe, so they use spiritual-sounding words to give the appearance of depth without question. My systematic theology professor told me if I couldn’t explain a concept from the Bible in a way that a kindergartener would understand, I really didn’t understand it. Therefore, I intentionally work at describing reality without using spiritualeze.
Understanding this, I know most unhealthy habits that I end up creating have spiritual implications. Take my weight, for instance. Lately, I realized that I was getting fat. The scale kept reaffirming what Mary Kay was telling me, I was putting on weight. This time, I just rationalized that I had been lifting weights since 2019 and, therefore, I had more muscle mass. Which was probably true, but I had a lot more fat mass also!
I know one of the reasons I put on weight is because I gradually become too dependent on food and the feeling of being full. When this feeling becomes my “normal,” I develop expectations that this is what I need or deserve. As a result, I become discontent when I don’t have my needs met. Then I find myself not eating to live but living to eat. I know some of this is wrapped up in my family of origin.
It is only when I become discontent with this state of food dependency that I will decide to change it. It is an intentional decision that I often journal about for days, weeks, or months before putting a plan of action into practice. I am not sure why it takes me so long to admit reality. Maybe it is my personality or my persistent denial, but it does take a while for me to acknowledge there is a need to change.
But once this decision to change has been made, I put together a plan on what I need to do to establish a new habit, discipline, or lifestyle. Christ gives me the insight, means, and strength to establish modified routines as I create emotional, mental, physical, and social environments to encourage the new behavior. This is an important aspect that I have learned is necessary for me to create new habits. For instance, for reducing my food intake, I use smaller plates and get the food out of the house. This is an example of creating a conducive physical environment.
Mary Kay will ask me questions when I want to eat more, e.g., she took my plate away when I said I was done at lunch today. Had she not done so, I would have eaten more. When we go out to eat with friends, the first thing I tell them is I am trying to eat well and less. They usually encourage me. All of these are social, environmental cues.
I journal my thoughts and feelings during the time to give me better insight into some of my inner life and why I don’t want to be hungry. I realize some of our family’s happiest times occurred when we ate and went out regularly for ice cream. There is little wonder I associate being extremely full with being happy. I ask myself, how do I change the mental/emotional narrative in my head from “I am content when I am full” to “I am content when I am right relationship with God and others?” Obviously, I am not talking about starving myself. I am just learning to be content with a sense of not being stuffed.
Eventually, there becomes the new normal. My body is the Spirit’s residence (1 Corinthians 6.12-20), and this whole process begins and ends with a spiritual emphasis in mind. The end is spiritual, but the means are physical, mental, emotional, and social. This is true for most things in life for me beyond eating, journaling, exercising, flossing, sleeping, reading, and even thinking.
It is interesting to note that I always have the option to reverse the direction, that is, to allow healthy habits to deteriorate. And they do. For me, this usually doesn’t take place by some big “falling off the wagon.” Rather, it is often a very small departure. It is likely I may be traveling and out of my routines, or just this little bite, or this one-time. These departures from what has become my new norm aren’t bad or wrong. Actually, often they are just a little form of grace. If I could see it as such, it would be fine.
However, when I get out of my routine for too long, it opens the possibility for another new normal to begin to slide into place, which may not be as healthy. As I have aged, I have learned to be not so rigid in my routines. That is what I will deal with next week.