To Change our Behaviors, we have to Change our Minds

I love it when academicians discover things the Bible has said all along.


For example, researchers at Duke University indicate that nearly 40% of our choices are deeply unconscious. We don’t “think” about many of our decisions in the usual sense. When I drive home from work, I don’t consciously think about turning right from Masters Road onto East 96th Street. Most of the time, I’m thinking about what happened that day or what I have to do that evening or the next day.


This creates both danger and opportunity. The opportunity is that we can develop new behaviors that eventually become instinctive. The danger is that we may also develop unhealthy routines that are counterproductive.


Author Greg McKeown puts it this way: “Without being fully aware, we can get caught in non-essential habits—like checking our e-mail the second we get out of bed every morning, or picking up a doughnut on the way home from work every day, or spending our lunch hour trolling the internet instead of using the time to think, reflect, recharge, or connect with friends and colleagues” (Essentialism, 209).


So, how can we let go of the routines that keep us locked in unhealthy behaviors and replace them with routines that lead us to greater spiritual, emotional, and physical health?


In case you’re wondering, this is where the academicians have discovered what the Bible has said all along. To change our behaviors, we have to change our minds. “Take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8). “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5).


Easier said than done, though, right?


For most of us, there seems to be a gravitational force pulling us toward unhealthy behaviors—the warm embrace of those French fries, those five minutes on Facebook that turn into thirty, or that spiral of worry about things beyond our control. How do we resist the powerful pull of these habits? Let me give us three practical steps of changing our behaviors by changing our minds.


1.     Overhaul your triggers. Triggers are cues that tell our brains to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. If your cue is to pick up your phone every morning and check Facebook, and the next thing you know, you’ve lost twenty minutes of your day, change your cue. Instead, when you automatically pick up your phone first thing in the morning, immediately read a chapter from the Bible. Each time you execute the new behavior, you strengthen the link in your brain between the cue and the new behavior. Soon, you will be automatically performing the new routine.


2.     Create new triggers. If picking up your phone first thing in the morning still leads you to the old habit of checking Facebook, try replacing your phone on your nightstand with a Bible. (That’s right—an actual Bible with pages.) Every morning, pick up your Bible as the new cue, and read a few verses or a chapter. Again, every time you execute the new behavior, it will eventually lead to a new habit.


3.     Tell someone. Share your trigger overhaul with your spouse or a friend and let them know about your progress. We’re far better at creating and maintaining new habits when we know someone will ask us how it’s going than when we simply keep our plan to ourselves.


As the old adage goes, “You are what you eat,” and so it is true that “you are what you think.” “Think about these things,” writes Paul, and “put them into practice” (Philippians 4:9). When we do, our triggers turn to new habits that help break the strongholds that keep holding us back.


I sure am glad the academicians finally discovered what the Bible said all along.