How to Break Old Habits and Actually See Change

August 26, 2022

We all have aspects of our character that we want to improve, but how do we actually go about doing so? How do we break old habits and create new, better habits?

By default, things die. Plants, buildings, our bodies – it’s all breaking down slowly but surely. The same is true for our minds, our souls, and our spirits. When left on their own, they don’t maintain – they die.

Choices, on the other hand, give life. And they always give life to something. They can give life to the things we want, or they can give life to the things we don’t want.

Choosing to drink alcohol until you pass out is giving life to insecurity, fear, withdrawal, self-indulgence, and addiction. Choosing to do something else instead of continuing to drink after a few drinks is giving life to self-control and peace. Pretty simple, right?

What you choose lives, and everything else dies by default.

So if you want to change bad habits, the only way to do it is to take life away from those habits by giving life to something else through your choices.

As much as the world around us tells us that we should just stop doing the things we want to see change about ourselves, avoiding the behaviors and habits we want to break is actually incredibly ineffective. By actively avoiding something, we’re feeding it energy. Therefore, the thing you give energy to – by choosing to avoid it – is actually the thing that gains more momentum and energy. 

Then we wonder why we can’t break habits we’ve attempted to avoid for years. It’s because we’ve been feeding them attention and energy in the form of avoidance instead of diverting our choices to something else.

And that happens one small decision at a time. It’s not something that happens in one big monumental moment.

If you want to stop looking at pornography, instead of trying to use your willpower to overcome it, start diverting your energy and attention to things that are actually uplifting instead. Read a book, start a conversation with a friend, or go for a walk. Put your energy elsewhere, and the desire to look at pornogrphy will die by default.

If you want to stop drinking too much alcohol, instead of trying to force yourself to stop, focus on doing more activities, having more conversations, and spending more time and energy on positive distractions.

When we switch our thinking and start diverting our choices to the things we want to see thrive in our life instead of avoiding what we dislike, then and only then will our habits and our character start to shift. 

But, remember, that only happens one small decision at a time.

Here’s the thing:

The positive change you want to see is NOT going to fall in your lap once all the other areas of your life are in order.

You don’t have to “fix yourself” in order to move forward with better habits.

This is a fundamental flaw in the way our culture sees change. We tend to think that positive change only happens once we’ve fixed ourselves or successfully avoided our brokenness. But the truth is, positive change happens when we simply start planting small seeds of action in the areas where we want to see things grow.

Don’t worry about where you shouldn’t plant seeds or where you planted seeds that produced bad things in the past. Almost all of that is completely unhelpful for where you are now. If you want to see positive change happen, just start planting seeds where you want trees. It’s that simple. When you do that, everywhere else will die by default.

It sounds easy, yet so often we choose to focus on the opposite of what we want while hoping that doing so will somehow give us something positive. 

What if we stopped trying to “not complain” and instead started focusing our energy on being more grateful? What if we focused more on giving compliments than we did on trying to fix our negative attitude? Then, our tendencies to complain would simply die by default since our energy is going elsewhere.

Here’s the point: 

Choose to apply your energy to the things you want to see live instead of applying your energy to avoiding or fixing the areas you don’t want. Love, lift up, encourage, celebrate, and pray for the things you want to see live. 

Your choices are life-giving acts of faith – one small decision at a time – and it’s your choices that decide what lives and what dies both in your life and in our culture.

Posted by Mike P. Taylor

Mike P. Taylor is an author, speaker, and consultant who helps people understand God's goodness in a fresh way. He's the author of the book Grounded Faith for Practical People and he writes at mikeptaylor.com where he helps people rethink religion for a new generation. He lives in Nashville, TN with his wife Sydney and their four kids.