Our lives are controlled by habits. They are the default settings that guide our behavior. Unfortunately, it seems easier to learn bad habits that good habits. The length of time to form a new habit has been a topic for much debate. In conducted at University College London, Dr. Philippa Lally determined that it takes more than two months before a new behavior becomes automatic--66 days to be exact. However, the length of time varies for individuals and can be anywhere from 18 days to 254 days!
In the text from Nehemiah 9:16-31, we learn that the people of Israel tended to fall into bad habits rather easily. Although God continued to walk with them, they persisted in going their own way. One way to look at the history of the Israelites is to see it as a struggle between God and God’s people.
Nehemiah 9:28a (NIV) observes, “But as soon as they were at rest, they again did what was evil in your [God’s] sight.” They were trapped in a cycle of bad habits and needed to break that cycle by adopting a new way of following God.
suggests that there are three steps to adopting a new habit:
1. Reminder--the trigger that initiates the behavior;
2. Routine--the behavior itself; the action you take;
3. Reward--the benefit you gain from doing the behavior.
The writer of Psalm 119:103 (NIV) seems not only to have discovered the trigger for a good habit--immersing himself in God’s Word--but developed a routine of practicing that habit and perceiving the reward as well: “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!”
The people of Israel had a choice and so do we. The good news is that we do not have to be controlled by our habits; we can choose to follow another path and adopt new ways of acting and behaving in our relationships with God and humanity.
(This originally appeared on the Center for Congregational Ethics Facebook page on August 28, 2018.)