Many of us greet the New Year with resolutions. We commit to lose weight, quit smoking, volunteer more time to help others, start exercising, or save more money.
Most resolutions involve setting aside an unhelpful habit or taking up life-enhancing habits. The key word here is “habit.” We are creatures of habit.
To accomplish the many ordinary routines of life, to say nothing of facing the crises or special occasions that come up from time to time, we draw upon habits of thinking, feeling, and acting.
Life is not a series of decisions made in a vacuum. We have developed patterns of living in this world, relating to each other, and relating to God. There is nothing wrong with living this way In fact, it’s how God designed us. Our character is in large part made up of our habitual ways of navigating our daily life.
As the year turns, some of us will survey our lives and ask what our habits are doing to us. Are some of our habits harmful? Are some of our formerly helpful habits no longer effective because of changing circumstances? Do these changing circumstances call for a new set of habits to achieve the good ends that we are still pursuing?
I want to share some general thoughts about changing habits and conclude with a resolution that I hope you will consider.
Acquiring a habit is not like changing a shirt. When I change a shirt, I only make one decision and the deed is done. I develop new habits by making the same choice over and over again for a period of time. The behavior or attitude I want to adopt becomes habitual after weeks or months. Be patient and persevere. It won’t always feel like your lifting a heavy weight.
Letting go of a habit doesn’t happen with the flip of a switch. Unlearning a habit can be like erasing pencil marks from a piece of papers. Even after a great deal of effort traces of the habit can remain.
For the most part, simply erasing a habit won’t work. You have to replace it with something positive. For instance, successful diets give us a new way to eat, not merely a list of the things we cannot eat.
And as for me, I find that habit formation works best by taking it one day at a time. Today I will eat healthy or do something kind for someone or take a walk. Refusing to look too far down the road means that one day we will look behind us and realize that we have actually been walking a very new path that we now take for granted.
Now I would like for you to consider a resolution. Let’s learn to disagree in a constructive, positive manner. Our nation needs it.
Living together in such a large, diverse country means that there will be a wide range of ideas about meeting the challenges we face. In order for us to face these challenges, we will have to find a way to do it together.
To do this, there are a few helpful habits we will need.
Seek the common good, not just your own narrow self-interest.
Ask what you can contribute in every situation, not merely what you will get out of it.
When we disagree about ideas, assume the good will of those with whom you disagree.
Refuse to indulge in contempt for those with whom you disagree. Look actively for the good in them.
Find the one thing you agree upon and commit to working together on that with all your might.
Remember that right relationship is more important than being right.
We need a new tone in this country. We need a positive, cooperative spirit that takes disagreement as a process for finding common solution instead of battles to have our own way all the time.
We are all in this together.