I have good news and bad news. Which do you want first? I have often heard that if you want to develop a new habit that it will take 21 days. If I do this new pattern for that period of time it will become like second nature to me. I have also heard that the principle also applies to removing negative habits as well. If I remove a bad habit for 21 days, it will be permanently removed from my life. The bad news is that it is not true. There is no scientific evidence to back this up. In Michael Hyatt's blog called “This is Your Life” in his post “How to Make a New Habit Stick” he says this:
It turns out the twenty-one day “rule” is a myth with practically no scientific basis. If we're trying to do something simple and easy, it might work…acquiring complex of challenging habits will probably take us a lot longer.
Researchers at University College tracked people attempting to form different types of new habits. Instead of three or four weeks, they found it took an average of sixty-six days for new habits ti become automatic. And they projected that some would take more than 250 days. (For the rest of Michael Hyatt's article click on this link http://us2.campaign-archive2.com/?u=52d5c7778a3adfda535c3b349&id=bd07e0be63&e=0852842c2a )
Now, this stat, you are probably saying is two things: depressing and unspiritual. The first one you are right, it can be a little discouraging. Two months to almost a year seems like a long time to develop good habits, but I have found it to be generally true in my experience. The second idea is the one we often struggle with. It seems almost unspiritual to have to work for such an extended period of time to establish good spiritual habits so I can be a disciple of Christ. Shouldn't I just be zapped from above with this noble desire? In some areas of my spiritual journey I have been waiting for this divine zap for an extended period of time, and it hasn't come. If it has happened to you, God has empowered you in this way, revel in it. Thank God for it. For the rest of us, the call will be to show discipline. It's interesting that the word “disciple” and “discipline” come from the same root word. Basically implying that being a disciple of Jesus requires discipline. I shared this comic in my message, a couple weeks ago, because its message is poignant.
Being a disciple of Jesus requires discipline. The bible uses another term for the ability to be able to discipline yourself on the spiritual journey. It is self-control. The Apostle Paul in his list of characteristics that should be evidenced in the spiritual life, he calls them fruit of the Spirit, included self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23). Self-control is the ability, by the help of the Spirit, to control or discipline ourselves so we can move towards maturity.
We live in a very instant society. We buy things and then we pay for them later. We wait impatiently for food to come out of a microwave. We are always trying to find ways of fast tracking everything. The problem is spiritual maturity takes time, energy and self-control. In many regards I see self control as the “lost fruit” of our society. We find it very difficult to wait for anything. Especially in the areas of spirituality, when the rewards come slowly and are sometimes a little bit more ethereal.
Now, you are probably thinking, you said there was good news…I don't see any good news yet. The good news is that God wants us to move towards maturity and to become more like Christ. God is also faithful to complete the work that he begins in you. (Philippians 1:6) You will develop and grow if you do not give up (Galatians 6:9).
Let me give you a few baby steps that we can do in order to start growing in this area.
1. Write down your growth area and a goal that you like to move towards. What area does God want you to grow and mature in? Let's say it's reading your Bible- that's your growth area. The goal is that you will read your Bible for ten minutes while you drink your coffee in the morning.
2. Pray something like this “God, I know you have called me to grow in (insert your area of growth) would you help me to have the self-control to do this.”
3. Give Yourself Grace. Don't beat yourself up if you mess up. You are going to make mistakes, but the important thing is to keep trying and don't slip back in to old patterns
4. Don't Try to Do Too Much. I started writing down all the growth areas and goals I wanted to accomplish and I just about wanted to quit. I had to pull back and set some limits or I would have become overwhelmed and done nothing instead. Small incremental change is what God wants us to move towards.
5. Keep Growing. Keep moving ahead. The temptation is to plateau and stop growing. God always has new areas he wants us to mature in.
So, there it is! The bad news is that change often takes longer than we would want. The good news is that by God's help and the development of self control, change is possible.