Have You Ever Wondered—
Why Bad Habits Are So Hard to Break?
AT THE beginning of a new year some people resolve to make a fresh start by breaking a bad habit. Making “New Year’s Resolutions” is quite popular in some countries. Yet many persons end up the year with making resolutions again—the SAME ones. Has this ever happened to you? Yes, bad habits are hard to break.
WHY DO WE HAVE BAD HABITS?
There are basically two reasons: (1) the influence from our environment and (2) various weaknesses with which we were born, and flaws of personality we have developed.
Our environment, which includes where we live, how we were reared, the type of friends we have, even what we look at for entertainment—all of these definitely influence the kind of habits we form. Additionally, most persons, if honest, will agree that we were also born with a natural inclination to do what is bad. The Bible itself says: “The inclination of the heart of man is bad from his youth up.” (Gen. 8:21) This “inclination” makes it easy to develop bad habits, some relatively harmless, others potentially deadly.
WHAT IS NEEDED TO BREAK BAD HABITS?
We must have a strong reason—an incentive—to break them. Several things can provide motivation. The prospect of a reward is at times sufficient. The promise to a child of a pretty new dress or a new pair of roller skates for breaking the bad habit of fingernail biting has been known to bring about amazing results.
Concern for one’s own welfare can be a powerful incentive. A person may know that smoking is bad for his health, and yet not stop. But when he begins to have difficulty in breathing, coupled with suspicious chest pains, and his doctor says that smoking is to blame, love of self may provide the incentive for him to stop.
Love for others can also give motivation. For instance, a young single man who squanders his money gambling may be willing to go without proper food and clothing. However, if married, one of his neglected children may plead: “Dad, I’m hungry and there’s no food in the house!” Love for his family may cause him to cease gambling. This concern for others is what may incite one to stop a habit that he now senses is annoying to others, a habit that may have been acquired from his previous environment or upbringing.
Yet at times love both for one’s self and for others fails. There is, however, another type of love that has provided even greater incentive and has succeeded where the others did not.
WHAT IS THE STRONGEST INCENTIVE?
This type of love can be illustrated by the words of one mother to her young daughter. The girl previously wanted very much to play the piano, but now bemoaned: “How I hate this everlasting practising!” The mother responded: “Think how delightful it will be, by and by, to entertain father when he comes home tired from the office! You know how he loves music. So keep up your courage, little daughter, for father’s sake.” The child never forgot those words “for father’s sake.” It gave her the extra incentive to do what was already in her heart. She loved her daddy!
Likewise, love for our heavenly Father can provide the strongest incentive to rid ourselves of habits that displease him. Such action brings joy to his heart. “This is what the love of God means,” explains the Bible, “that we observe his commandments.”—1 John 5:3.
One young woman who had tried for months to quit smoking explained that this love really worked in her case: “I acknowledged in prayer to Jehovah that I really did enjoy smoking, but that I wanted to give it up to please Him. Then by keeping my mind continually on pleasing God, I finally broke free from the habit.”
Yet the Bible is very realistic in recognizing that breaking bad habits is not easy. One of its faithful writers sighed: “For the good that I wish I do not do, but the bad that I do not wish is what I practice. . . . Miserable man that I am!” (Rom. 7:18-24) Since breaking bad habits is such a difficult task, even with the right motivation, it is only natural to ask:
WHERE DO YOU START?
Since we are greatly affected by our environment, endeavor to change it. This does not necessarily mean moving, but it means exercising care about what we let influence our minds. Are there items in our home that would tempt us to continue in our bad habit? Get rid of them!
Or, some may have trouble coping with the harmful habit of a bad temper. “Do not have companionship with anyone given to anger,” recommends the Bible. And why? “That you may not get familiar with his paths.” (Prov. 22:24, 25) Isn’t it true that when you’re around rough persons you sometimes speak harshly? On the other hand, if you’re around calm, self-controlled persons, it also rubs off. Also, would reading books or watching TV shows or movies where violence is featured make the task easier or harder? So to overcome some bad habits we may have to change from some of our present “friends” to new ones, and we may need to avoid certain types of entertainment.
Many persons have found an environment conducive to developing good habits by attending the meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses and associating with them. The Witnesses have been willing to help them through a free personal study of the Bible to learn more about God and thereby grow to love him even more.
Yet many may wonder, since it still is a constant fight to rid ourselves of bad habits, will the day ever come when such will be completely overcome? Will even the weaknesses we were born with and that are so hard to manage ever be fully removed? Happily, the answer is “Yes.” Why not read the article “The Best Life—Soon to Come” in this magazine for a satisfying explanation of the reason why this is so.