Instead of writing Happy School, I considered writing Willpower School or Self-discipline School because I simply love this topic. Take it from someone who has previously been trapped in several cages: freedom rocks!
When I was 16, I read an article on self-discipline in a woman’s magazine. Even then, I was already having trouble with the concept. I tore the article out and actually kept it in a box for about thirty years (it got lost when we moved). I have searched to find the article again in the magazine’s archives, but cannot find it. What I remember though is that the article said something to the essence of self-discipline is similar to a super power, and this magical power separates people. For years I ached to acquire self-discipline. Eventually, after decades of research, the secrets floated to the top. I share these secrets with you in Lesson 4 of Happy School and in this week’s lesson in Happy School Advanced.
If you’ve been struggling with a bad habit for months, or even years, prepare to launch on a journey where you will ultimately ditch that enemy! After this week’s lesson, you are ready to begin to dethrone the villain.
Some women have trouble with workaholism. Other women waste untold time on social media. Whatever your bad habit is, you can apply the principles in this lesson to help you get to your Best Sane Higher Self.
Be sure to reread the Genie section again in Lesson 4 in Happy School as you will need that foundational material before you proceed in this week’s lesson.
One more thing: There is so much material in Lesson 4 in Happy School, as well as in today’s Happy School Advanced lesson. It is okay if your group decides to take 2 weeks to process the material. In fact, I recommend it!
The Lies of Self-indulgence and the Beauty of Self-Discipline
Self-discipline and self-control are not only popular topics, they are God’s topics. The Bible has a lot to say about these topics. Concerning self-control with our thinking, the Apostle Peter tells us to gird up the loins of our minds. As far as self-control with eating, Proverbs says to only eat a little honey. As for self-control with sex, the Word says to keep the marriage bed undefiled. Regarding self-control with work, the Apostle Paul says work as unto the Lord. And concerning self-control with the tongue, the book of Proverbs states its importance as it declares that death and life are in the power of the tongue. The concept of self-control reigns throughout Scripture. There is also a plethora of warnings concerning self-indulgence throughout Scripture (one example I love is Ezekiel 16:49-50.)
I don’t have to tell you that self-control is best for you. However, as you know, your Lower Self is trying to find a way to get the benefits of self-discipline without paying the cost.
Blessings always lie on the other side of side-discipline and detriments always lie on the other side of self-indulgence. This is because God made our world a sowing and reaping world. “For lack of discipline they will die, led astray by their own great folly.” Proverbs 5:23
You know your bad habit is hindering you and holding you back. Much success and happiness is on the other side of resisting urges. But you have to have a plan to resist urges. And learning how to do that is the major goal of this week’s lesson.
I intentionally put Lesson 4 early in the line-up of the book, Happy School, because you must stop substance abuse and bad habits before other issues can be addressed. Not controlling, but stopping. Not more counseling, but stopping. Get clean to get clear. Stop self-destructive habits and then you will have vast amounts of time, insight, and energy to rebuild and improve your life.
As you also know, bad habits are effective and powerful because they hide and block stress as well provide color and zest. But only for a moment. In their wake, they leave destruction. They are robbers and con artists. It’s not a sacrifice to quit something that is harmful; it is brilliant and freeing.
Fulfillment in life doesn’t come from pleasure. Yes, pleasure is nice and I love it like you do. But deep, fulfillment in life come from your relationship with God, from pursing meaningful goals (Lesson 5), and from relationships (Lesson 9). These pillars give life ultimate meaning—not pleasure and escape.
Decide to master yourself so you can aim at worthwhile goals (Lesson 5), as well as give to and love others (Lesson 9). Self-discipline takes you where you want to go and gets you what you want. Bad habits are like having a heavy weight tied to your foot while you’re trying to swim.
Your default mode is to medicate yourself, because that’s the easy thing to do. It takes energy to overcome, to fly above. You are not likely to conquer your bad habit without being extremely intentional. Naturally, in our flesh, we are lovers of pleasure instead of lovers of God. Our tendency is to drift away. Humans have fallen intuitions. Don’t trust your Lower Self to make decisions for you.
You know your bad habit is harming and impeding you, in spite of all the temporary and immediate benefits. You’ve got to see stopping as a tool to reach your dreams. Discipline holds the keys to joy and freedom. Don’t you have enough problems without nagging, life-stealing, bad habits? Bad habits waste your energy and time; they make you foggy and dull. They are just plain pathetic.
In the early 20th century, Andrew Carnegie commissioned Napoleon Hill to seek out the most successful people. What did Hill discover was their one common denominator? No surprise. It was self-discipline.
Helen Keller said, “True happiness is not attained thru self-gratification, but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.” (More in Lesson 5 on goals and purpose.)
For centuries, sages have talked about the beauty of self-discipline. You can’t buy it (although I once heard Dave Ramsey remark he likes to pay a personal trainer to count his push-ups so in that sense, you can be savvy and use money to help you.) Everyone appreciates the benefits of self-control in all areas, such as food, alcohol, speech, spending, etc. The more disciplined you become, the easier your life gets. In addition, your self-confidence will flourish because self-respect is a fruit of virtue and self-discipline.
We must all suffer one of two things: The pain of discipline now or the pain of regret later. It’s a lie that freedom is found in escape, indulgence, and excessive pleasure. Ironically, freedom comes with discipline.
Don’t count on the culture to help you. Companies don’t care if you destroy your life, only that you buy their products. Their ads make their products look incredibly life-affirming, like casino ads, alcohol ads, Trash Food ads, and ads to buy expensive cars, watches, vacations, and other things that you can’t afford. Rise up from the herd mentality.
Your bad habit makes you way less than you could be. What would your life be like if you made use of all your potential and didn’t have dissipation? Why are you casually stringing together wasted days? You know what you need to do to put your life in order. Do the thing you have been avoiding.
Recently I ran into a girl who is addicted to sugar. After she had eaten half of a birthday cake (against her own better judgement), she said to me, “I hate myself.” What a true picture of Proverbs 15:32, “He who neglects discipline despises himself.” You can’t be happy if you are ignoring discipline. To be happy, you have to remove the disagreement inside your mind. So don’t fight your bad habit any longer. Give it up. It’s not a joy to be burdened with your bad habit; it’s a joy to be free. Train your brain not to want what harms you.
And remember, with self-discipline comes the authority to speak into the lives of others.
Day 2, Part A
How We Got Addicted to Our Bad Habits
It’s no secret why we love bad habits. They relax the brain, they help us hide and escape from the harshness of life, they soften life, they appear as pleasure, delight, and friends, and they are a cover for disappointment. We also use bad habits to cover feeling unloved, unwanted, uncared for, and unappreciated. Bad habits are a substitute for having good relationships and for participating in fulfilling work. Bad habits help us escape from all our WMDs (What’s Missing and Disappointing) as well as all the unwanted responsibility we must face. They mask the dull, gray, boring areas in our lives.
Bad habits dial down anxiety, grief, restlessness, uneasiness, social anxiety, physical pain, grumpiness, fatigue, and self-pity. They dim failure, regret, and guilt. They dial down the unpleasantness of a bad job or a crummy relationship.
Wow. No wonder we desire our bad habits. They possess quite a resume of skills and services! It’s no wonder that giving them up initially seems like you are sacrificing something important.
Let’s look at the path which got us tangled up in our current bad habit and see how it got such a tight hold on us. Here’s the pattern: we indulged, the dopamine of the pleasure registered in our brain, and then we noted the pleasant escape from the earlier discomfort. We repeated this scenario, causing a neural groove to be formed. “Hey,” we said to ourselves, “I found an easy and cool escape!” The only thing is, we didn’t know this escape hatch was filled with hidden crocodiles and alligators.
It reminds me of the description of the simple, young lad in Proverbs 7:22-23 (the words in the parentheses are mine): “With persuasive words she (the immoral woman) led him astray; she seduced him with her smooth talk (hear the pleasure?). All at once he followed her (his Lower Nature won) like an ox going to the slaughter (oh dear).”
Abstaining is not deprivation; it’s freedom.
Your bad habits lie to you and con you into thinking they soften life without any strings attached. There are strings attached to everything.
Your bad habit is small at first, but tentacles grow and soon you have a monster wrapped around you. You initially partook to get a need met but you end up sabotaging yourself.
Bad habits work because they provide a momentary thrill, a dopamine reward. Human connection is the best source of dopamine. When we are not connected, we feel a dopamine depletion and fill it with our mood changer of choice. Isolation encourages the use of bad habits because bad habits and their dopamine release meet a human’s need for pleasure. The lonelier you are, the more susceptible you are to addictions and bad habits.
Going through the withdrawal of your bad habit (cigarettes, vaping, Trash Food, alcohol, prescription drugs, etc.) is not fun, but most people can easily do it. (If you are heavily addicted to a substance or activity, please get help.)
Day 2, Part B
You Have the Ability to Conquer Your Bad Habit
Write out the benefits for stopping your bad habit and the detriments of continuing. The Genie said, “It’s not hard to avoid the thing that’s harming your life. In light of that truth, it’s not a big deal to quit your bad habit.”
In my past groups, women have listed benefits from stopping various bad habits, such as binge eating on Trash Food or drinking alcohol. Stopping these habits improved mood in the morning, brought vibrancy to the day, increased clarity on life, more productivity, more energy to love others, etc. The list is incredibly long.
The way to stop bad habits is to attach more pleasure to not doing your bad habits. By bathing your mind with the benefits of stopping as well as the detriments of continuing (on paper, not in your mind!), you will eventually be convinced to stop.
Bad habits are a mousetrap. Their bait is the pleasure (the cheese) and then the snap of the trap is your entanglement in the bad habit, along with all the detriments attached. Remember, you’re not giving up a pleasure because true pleasures don’t have hooks, toxins, and heartaches attached to them. Bad habits are such thieves.
I once read of a movie star who has a cigarette a day but at parties, etc. she has a few more. I could never do that. I’d be smoking 2 packs a day. (I can hear myself now with excuses of why today is a special day to indulge: “Hey, today is Flag Day, and that’s special so let’s smoke a pack.”) Total abstinence is so much easier for folks like me. Moderation is fuzzy and if you’re a little compulsive in these areas—like me—abstaining is easier.
My husband and I are both very careful about our intake of sugar and refined carbs because we know that an excess can seriously affect your health. So we gave up dessert and bread years ago. We go out to dinner all the time and never think, “Isn’t it sad we don’t get bread and dessert? Boo hoo.” No, we enjoy the jaw-dropping abundance of food that God has given us to eat. It’s a banquet! We went out to dinner with a couple not too long ago, and the man had recently started a Paleo diet. The waiter came and we all asked him to take away the bread basket. Then the man said, “It’s so hard to give up bread. I just hate it. It’s a terrible sacrifice. I really miss it.” Later, I thought about that, because we never think about any deprivation. We focus on the beautiful, bountiful, amazing, nutritious, delicious food we get to eat. You’ve got to listen to your self-talk. That man was giving the bread one interpretation (remember Lesson 3?) and we were giving it another. Listen to the Parade that Marches Across your Brain that talks you into indulging in your bad habit. Write it down so you can refute it.
Challenge the things you say to yourself, such as, “It’s so sad I don’t get X. I don’t have much in my life that I like and now I have to give up Y. Life is hard because I can’t have my bad habits.” (We will get to the Lesson on Self-pity soon.)
The steps to overcoming bad habits are try, fail, analyze what went wrong, and repeat. Your Lower Nature doesn’t have 2000 schemes, only around 20. They are not, as the Genie said, insurmountable impediments. You can scale this wall. Lay bricks every day and soon you’ll have built a cathedral. Stay with it. Try, try, try again.
You have limited Willpower Points every day. Think of your bowl of Willpower Points as a bowl of mixed nuts. Every time you have chores or work you don’t want to do, difficult people to deal with, or interruptions, you take from your small bowl of mixed nuts/Willpower Points. Experiencing any kind of frustration depletes your bowl, as does making decisions. And it is much harder to make good choices later in the day when so many of your Willpower Points are used up. Try to arrange your life so you don’t have to use as many WP points. For example, I can’t buy Key Lime pie. If I do, I spend a huge amount of WP points resisting it as it calls my name. Therefore I keep it out of the house. My youngest son loves it, so when he visits, I buy a single serving.
When tempted to indulge in your bad habit (when you’ve previously made a decision to abstain), say to yourself, “Really? I haven’t learned my lesson about how much I regret that decision?”
The battle is won in your mind. Getting rid of bad habits makes you soar. Learn to associate your bad habits with obstructing, hindering, clogging, and delaying your true goals. Your bad habits have hijacked you. Few things bring more satisfaction than gaining freedom from bad habits.
A life with deep pay-offs always requires virtue and self-discipline.
Your Lower Self will have endless rationalizations to why you need to indulge: “Life is hard. I haven’t had birthday cake in ages.” The second you give in, your Lower Self will say, “See? Didn’t I tell you this would be great? This is what I was talking about! All your problems are gone and it’s just you and me and this divine pleasure. Wow. Take this in. This is life! Get some more.” And you’re officially on the downhill slope.
I once heard a story about the conversation of two crabs on the moon. As they were gazing at the beautiful, blue planet Earth, one said to the other, “Can you imagine living there? They have gentle rains, majestic mountains, warm beaches, beautiful snow, and fresh air. That would be the life.” We have all of that and we take it for granted. Instead, we live with our Lower Self always honking for more pleasure. It’s time to corner the beast.
It’s madness to be conned by short-lived pleasure and to give up living your best life.
Humans are the most powerful entities on the planet. You can learn to choose against your Lower Self.
When you’re starting out and trying to overcome a bad habit, you won’t be prepared for all of the “reasons” your Lower Nature has to get you to indulge. Therefore, it is imperative that you listen to the Parade Marching across Your Brain so you can hear the reason that tricked you into succumbing. You have to write it down. Actually, your Lower Self is kind of a dunce, and it gets comical after you figure out how to refute the 20 or so schemes she has. She will keep trying the same 20 schemes. You can actually start laughing at her as you talk back to her with, “Really? You want me to indulge because it’s the weekend?!? That’s your reason?”
When people are trying to overcome a bad habit, but instead fall for one of the 20 schemes their Lower Nature throws at them, they say to themselves, “I’m hopeless. I’ll never overcome this bad habit.”
My friend, that is hogwash. You are a glorious human being, made in the image of God, created to overcome. You absolutely do not have to give in to a life of self-indulgence. You’ve got to stay at this, learn all 20 schemes of your Lower Nature, and debunk every one!
See this as a journey at first: two steps forward, one step back. If you are ambushed by your Lower Self, it’s because your Lower Self had a reason you weren’t prepared for. Therefore, again, it is imperative that you record the scheme, analyze it, be ready to refute it next time, and strike out again. Some people take a couple months to do this dance. But then, if they don’t give up, and if continue to Listen to the Parade, record, analyze, refute, and strike out again, they can conquer their bad habit.
Again, as I’ve said, the secret to overcoming a bad habit is to not want it. And the secret to not wanting it is to attach detriments to it that harm you (along with benefits you are being robbed of). Cocaine is said to be very pleasurable (this is one habit I didn’t get bitten by), but you don’t want it, right? Why? Isn’t there a lot of pleasure to be had? You don’t want it because you’ve heard about the lives of crackheads and you know the great detriments. You’ve got to apply similar thinking to your bad habits.
Day 3, Part A
The Moment of Resisting Urges
Let’s re-list a few of the reasons your Lower Nature will throw at you to indulge at a particular time. They are so repetitive that they become comical:
You can handle it. A little doesn’t hurt you. You can be moderate. This time is special. It would be so nice. This little habit won’t hurt you in tiny portions. This indulgence would especially be nice because it’s vacation. Others get to so why should you miss out? You really need a boost. You can start on Monday. It’s sad that you have to resist since everyone else is indulging. Aren’t you taking this thing a little far? Why be so strict? You only go through life once. This anxiety is intolerable and you didn’t get what you needed as a child so there is no hope for you. No one appreciates all the hard work you do, so treat yourself.
Just remember the truth: you’ve tried all that, and it didn’t work. Your bad habit drains you, steals from your health, and keeps you from achieving your dreams.
This is when you have to be ready to thrust your Best Sane Higher Self proclamation into the face of your Lower Self: “That habit causes misery. In moments of my Best Sane Higher Self, I know that I have told myself it’s not best for me. Why would I do something that is not best for me? In my heart, I’d like to be free of the misery and the whole filthy mess.”
Again, the key to defeating the bad habit is to remember to talk back to the desire: “I tried that bad habit and it didn’t work for me. It brought me harm. It’s true that I will get a temporary boost as it will numb and dull my current disappointment, but in the morning, I’ll be so glad I abstained!”
Then get a healthy substitute, and Move into Another Room in Your Brain!
Over time, stopping bad habits will increase the quality of your life, and you will have the freedom to become the best person you can be. Then you’ll wake up in the morning with confidence and feel refreshed. Remember, your bad habit is not a friend, but a liar and a thief.
In one of my past groups, one girl made us all laugh as she wrote, “Dear Bad Habit, When I signed up to be friends with you, it was for pleasure and numbing the unpleasantness of life. You were a boost. But I have found out what a traitor you are, as you’ve brought me so much sorrow and regret. I’m breaking up with you.”
It is a lie that stopping your bad habit will strip you of what makes life tolerable. Your bad habit is actually making your life worse, not better. You might legitimately need some self-soothing and pleasure, but give yourself something healthy, not harmful.
For sure, come up with some substitutes to distract you, but ultimately, the best way to overcome bad habits is to not want them because they are harmful. Convince your mind they are hugely destructive to your health, your finances, your dreams, your goals, and your vision. Once you convince your mind, your body will easily follow.
Remember, your Lower Self doesn’t care if you are destroyed, only that it has pleasure now. Let your Lower Self break plates and throw her tantrums. Yes, your Lower Self pleads and demands. Put her in a cage. She’s not in charge. Your Higher Self can walk out of that Room in Your Brain and get distracted with another thought. Don’t trade what you want now for what you want most.
Bad habits are like poison. It’s a joy to not be burdened with them, not a deprivation. You can’t prevent hurricanes and all car accidents, but you can certainly decide what you put in your body. It’s not a sacrifice. How could laying down a trouble-maker be a sacrifice?
Be ready for the whine of your Lower Self: “Just a little bit? I promise that’s all I’ll get.” Silence that nonsense with your Reasons list. Pick one of your alternate behaviors, such as hot tea, a nap, carrots with guacamole, a good book, a funny show, a chat with a friend, hobbies, or a warm bath and Move into Another Room in Your Brain.
Day 3, Part B
Let Your Pleasure Centers Heal
When you participate in a destructive bad habit, it provides a hit of dopamine, a feel-good hormone but it depletes your natural pleasure center. So when you quit, you will actually feel worse for a little while until your pleasure centers heal. The sooner you quit, the sooner your brain can begin to heal and you can begin to walk about in freedom! I will walk about in freedom for I have sought out Your precepts. Ps. 119: 45
You first have to stop and then sometimes endure the sadness until the pleasure center can rebuild itself. The thinking in the first three lessons of Happy School will greatly help you, though, as you can now Move into Another Room in Your Brain.
Human connection is the best source of dopamine. Consider taking the initiative to join a group or develop other relationships that you’re interested in. Giving up your bad habit is the first step, but you need a plan to fill the holes in your heart. The plan is three-pronged: growing your relationship with the Lord, finding and doing fulfilling work (Lesson 5), and human relationships (Lesson 9).
You can’t change the OS (operating system) of your brain in an hour like you can with a computer. However, over time, you can rebuild neural pathways. Those with weak, delicate stomachs have to take more time and effort to watch their diet. You will have to watch yourself in your “area” for a while. In the grand scheme of life and because of the fabulous benefits of giving up your bad habit, that’s not a big deal! (Again, the lesson on self-pity is coming down the tracks.)
Remember, you don’t try to find out why you numb yourself, and then quit. You quit so you can clearly see why you numb yourself.
Be sure to remember that sleep, healthy food, sunlight, fresh air, a lack of stress, tidying up, humor, the outdoors, prayer, lots of clean water, walking, and being with people you like are all healing and helpful for rebuilding brain chemistry. Take responsibility for doing things you love, for enjoying your life.
Change your mind and you can easily end the conflict in your mind.
Tomorrow’s article will have more information to help you heal your pleasure centers.
Day 4, Part A
The 7 Mighty Steps
This is an especially important section to process with a few friends. This is a difficult subject and wrestling with this material with others seems to truly cement the concepts in your brain. People resist writing out a Best Sane Higher Self (although actually it is easy to do) but it is crucial that you do it!
Let’s comb through the 7 Mighty Steps. They begin on page 86 in Happy School. (You can also review these steps in the summary located on page 247 at the end of the book.)
#1. Make a list of the detriments of continuing and the benefits of stopping. I hate to admit this, but one of my battles was such a monster that I had a 2-inch folder of hand-written documents that I had accumulated before I was really ready to ditch this last dragon. I had to get clear on the detriments and on the benefits. I said to myself, “If I’m going to give up this mood-changer, I’m going to be sure it’s worth it.”
No one can write out the detriments and benefits of stopping your bad habit but you. You can’t hire this out at Thumbtack or Upwork. Starting today, every time you think of or read about a benefit or detriment to continuing or stopping your bad habit, write it down. Accumulate your Reasons.
Exercise is no longer a huge struggle for me, but it used to be. Even after I wrote Skinny School, I would still occasionally go look at page 134, because page 134 listed the benefits of exercise. I would read the benefits and then get myself out the door to exercise. Now, the benefits of exercise and the detriments of not exercising are so overwhelmingly etched in my brain that it’s not even a battle anymore—it’s just a matter of when and what exercise I’m going to do. (FYI, I am walking this very second and dictating this lesson into my phone.)
#2. Write out a proclamation of your Best Sane Higher Self. I can’t tell you how important this is. In the presence of God, write out your best version of you with the knowledge you have at this point. Include goals, priorities, your calling, your purpose and how you want to spend your limited time and energy on Earth. You will include impediments to overcome, new habits to build, old habits to extinguish. You’ll know when your BSHS proclamation feels right. (Lesson 5 will further help with this exercise.)
#3. Know the arguments and schemes your Lower Self will try to use to seduce you. Early on when I was trying to resist urges I would almost shake at an urge, like it was the Emperor of the Universe and I was its royal subject. You have learned how to listen to the Parade that Marches across your Brain so now you can listen to your Lower Self’s schemes. Write them down. Refute them. Know them so that when they appear, you’ll be ready. Your urges feel like the great and powerful Wizard of Oz, but truly, they are more like the man behind the curtain, a weak little guy operating some switches.
When you are tempted, recognize that you are aroused and realize you are getting ready to be seduced. You’ve got to interrupt this ambush.
#4. Be ready to talk back to your Lower Self. Talk back to it with your Best Sane Higher Self proclamation. Say, “Mrs. Urge! Mrs. Craving! Mrs. Lower Self! Your request for me to indulge is not in harmony with my Best Sane Higher Self and I know for sure, that in the morning, I’ll be glad I resisted you.” (Just for the record, soon your urges will die down, but they will not go away completely. If they do try to show up, they are like sickly bugs, and it’s easy to swat and kill them.) This is the power of creating new neural grooves in your brain. As the Genie said, the judge and jury have surveyed all the evidence when you were in your best sane mind—not in the undertow of cravings and cues—and the verdict is that you must abstain for your own happiness.
#6. This step is key, and now you know how to do it: Move into Another Room in Your Brain, i.e., think about something else.
#7. Decide beforehand what strategy you’ll use to self-soothe or entertain. Hopefully, you’ve made a list in your Quartz Journal, Alternatives I Will Choose for Comfort and Entertainment. A very important principle is having a substitute for your bad habit. In Skinny School, we discussed having your Quart Bags ready. (Click HERE to read the Skinny School Advanced lesson on having Quart Bags ready). With all bad habits, you have to have an alternate go-to. When the craving or urge comes, you break and interrupt the cycle by having alternatives and substitutes ready.
For me, if I want something self-soothing, I make red raspberry tea and add a little Stevia. Or, maybe I get a cup of coffee with a Paleo shortbread cookie and relax with something to read. Alternatively, a warm bath, a good meal, or a pleasant conversation soothe me. You will have to think about what substitutes will work for you.
Initially, you might be sad when you give up your tool or trick that you’ve used to numb yourself. But it’s a lie that you need your bad habit to numb yourself. There are literally 1000’s of fabulous interests and pursuits you can choose instead.
Day 4, Part B
Staying Stopped or Do Not Go Back to What Buried You
Your Enemy prowls around and he is very savvy. He knows just how to take you out of the race that you’ve been called to run. All he needs to do is give you a bad habit that consumes a lot of your time and energy, and that makes you feel bad about yourself.
If I’m tempted in any area of my former bad habits, I read two things: my Best Sane Higher Self proclamation and this fabulous quote: “You have dug your soul out of the dark, you have fought to be here, do not go back to what buried you.”
Whatever you bad habit is—Trash Food, overspending, smoking, alcohol, hoarding, prescription or street drugs—it’s helpful to remember that although your bad habit was an immediate relief, it buried you. It took you to an emotional dungeon. It took your hand and you walked together into a dark place. I don’t want to be in a dark place and you don’t want to be in a dark place. We want to have the freedom of a clear conscience before the Lord and use our gifts to make a difference in the world. So much joy comes from using your gifts (Lesson 5), but if you’re caught in a tangled web and a cycle of bad habits, I can promise you will not experience this lightness, happiness, and clarity.
Sometimes I’ll have dreams that some of my bad habits have come back and I am tempted by them. When I wake up, I’m so glad the dream was not real. My life is certainly not perfect and I have a couple of important things that I stand before the Lord and beg Him for, but currently, there are no bad habits that I’m aware of. In my early 20s, I struggled with eating Trash Food (I weighed almost 50 pounds more than now), smoked three packs of cigarettes a day, was deeply in debt, smoked marijuana, and drank wine every night.
Isn’t it so beautiful how God gives beauty for ashes?! After I got saved at 25 years old, God started the long haul of cleaning me up. At 26, I went to a Christian play and they sang a song called, Beauty for Ashes. Then, David and I had that song sung at our wedding. We both had such huge, transformations in our worldview and lifestyles after we met the Lord. He is a merciful God who loves to help and deliver His children.
It’s easy to get bummed out about all the time and energy I spent on my bad habits in the past. But the way to think about your regrets and your failures (Lesson 6) is that God allowed them for a purpose so that you could later use them somehow as a gift to others. I love 2 Cor. 1:4, which says that God, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. One of my top joys in life is helping other women, and I learned everything while I was in the wilderness.
If you’re reading this, you’re probably struggling with a bad habit that you’d really like to be free of. Remember, why would you ever go back to the substance that buried your soul? Freedom is what you want, not some piddly-dink, soul-robbing, temporary pleasure.
It’s time to leave the wilderness and enter Canaan!
Are You Genetically Predisposed to Have Impossible-to-Overcome Bad Habits?
With advances in science, the sequence of the genome is becoming more and more understood. For example, I found out I have a genetic disorder that doesn’t expel iron easily called hemochromatosis (it’s not a problem, I just give blood regularly.) If you’ve studied genetics, you will understand that genetics and DNA are complicated on the level of how complicated the solar system is.
Yes, it’s possible you have a genetic propensity to maybe lean toward addiction. But this is a far cry from having a disease. I mean, if you don’t eat excess sugar, you can’t be impacted by the diseases that sugar causes. If you don’t use drugs, then you can’t be caught in the web of terror that comes from drug use. And if you don’t drink alcohol, you can’t get caught up in the life-sucking addiction of alcoholism. I mean, it might be harder for you than some to withdraw and abstain, but of course, you can. What you are lacking is motivation and the right thinking. People who seem to be hopelessly addicted break through and stop their addiction in a nano-second when the motivation appears.
Of course, after the regular use of an addictive substance or activity, your brain gets hijacked and wants the dopamine hit. But you can go through withdrawal and stop. What do you think people pay thousands of dollars to rehab centers for? (I’m not making light of a heavy addiction to alcohol or drugs. Please get some help to withdraw if this is you.) Most people can stop drinking, smoking, eating sugar, doing marijuana, gambling, overspending, etc. without enrolling in a rehab program. Many rehab centers are great so please don’t hear me wrong on this. I just don’t want you using that for an excuse—that you don’t have the money, etc. to go to a rehab center— instead of simply stopping your bad habit.
It’s true that some of us have genes that set us up to be more inclined to use substances, but this is certainly not a death sentence. If you quit a bad habit because you decide it’s not good for you, no gene in the universe can make you do it. Genes maybe predispose you, but they don’t force you. People who have genes that predispose them to alcoholism never become alcoholics if they don’t ever drink. Of course you can quit any bad habit. It’s ridiculous for you to think otherwise. Addiction is not a permanent brain disease. Yes, you may currently have a “hijacked brain” but you can overcome addiction. Never say, “I’m an addict and I’ve got a disease and I can’t help it.” That is a lie and a harmful statement.
We have to learn to gain satisfaction in life through engaging with God and others, and using our gifts. That engagement trumps addiction. You can overcome being an addict with positive relationships (Lesson 9), meaningful goals (Lesson 5), and knowing how to handle What’s Missing and Disappointing (WMDs) by thinking correctly (Lessons 1-3). People with addiction madness need to replace this lower nature anarchy with sane, new interests and thoughts. And that is what we are doing in Happy School and Happy School Advanced!
Another phrase that frequently gets thrown around is “some addictions are a progressive disease”. It is true that things often go downhill and get worse. However, people quit all the time when they realize their aspirations in life are being ruined. When people see that their bad habits are ruining an important area in their life, frequently they stop. Addiction is not permanently embedded in your brain. You can learn how to resist urges, and then they will greatly decrease (not go away, but subside). The hardest part is initially quitting. The 7 Mighty Steps (see the summary on page 247 in Happy School) are the secret sauce.
There are hard things in life, and many people don’t have the skills to manage how to think about hard things. But Happy School and Happy School Advanced give you these skills. This process takes some time so don’t expect everything to be perfect by Christmas.
As you now know, it is impossible to be happy when you are mad at yourself for making harmful and damaging choices. You are a glorious human being, made in the image of God, and you can learn to choose against your Lower Self’s stupid urges.
Nutrition, Exercise, and Other Habits Affect Your Emotions
This article was earlier sent out as a Genie School blog, but here it is again in case you missed it.
Last week I listened to a podcast by a psychiatrist who went back to school to get his PhD in nutrition. He said that nutrition affects mental health so greatly that he didn’t feel like he could properly treat his patients unless he helped them get their nutrition right.
A very lovely young girl called me last week, wanting to discuss her extreme emotional ups and downs. Early in the conversation, she informed me of a few of her lifestyle choices: She takes Adderall to get going in the morning, takes Xanax to go to sleep at night, drives through fast-food restaurants at least once a day, as well as drinks lots of alcohol on weekends. I told her I could help her with her thinking and subsequent emotions, but she would also have to address her physical lifestyle choices if she wanted to seriously dial down her mood swings.
You are one system, and your emotional, mental, spiritual, and physical self are all intertwined. You cannot expect to have radiant mental health without addressing your physical health as well as the health of your relationships (see below).
In Happy School, Where Women Learn the Secrets to Overcome Discouragement and Worry, I primarily discuss your thinking and how that radically changes your emotions. But to maximize your positive emotions, you also have to address your physical health. Therefore, let’s review and walk through some habits that affect your physical health.
Number one, of course, is the food you put in your body, i.e., your nutrition. It has been proved overwhelmingly that excess sugar and refined carbs are bad for your health. Sugar and carbs raise inflammation in your body, disrupt your hormones, and pretty much upset every system in your body. If you continue to eat the Standard American Diet (SAD), you will most likely suffer negative consequences in every area. I know it costs a lot of time and money to cook healthy, but it is crucial to your family’s well-being.
Some of my favorite health experts are Mark Hyman from Ultra Wellness (he has videos on YouTube), anything Joseph Mercola writes (at Mercola.com), Amy Myers (at AmyMyersMD.com), and Josh Axe (at DrAxe.com). Most of those people sell products, but they offer huge amounts of information for free. This article on Josh Axe’s website (CLICK HERE) primarily states the title as “eating to support your supplements.” But if you scroll down, you’ll find basically a primer on what to eat. It’s a very good list, especially if you are not a regular to reading about health.
Number two is movement. For years, I would go to the gym for 30 minutes, four to five times a week, thinking that I was checking off the “exercise box” of health. It was not until I bought a step counter that I realized how sedentary I was. I’m a writer, so outside of my little housekeeping duties and my piddly trips to the gym, I am stationed at a computer for most of the day. Experts say anything 5000 steps and below is sedentary. Maybe you’ve even heard that sitting is the new smoking. According to the new studies, taking 8000 steps a day seems to be the magic number where you can increase your longevity by merely having daily movement. (HERE is a chart to convert activities like swimming and weight training to steps.)
As I’ve learned more about health, I’ve gained a better understanding of why this is true. Exercise increases your heart rate and accelerates your breathing which helps your cells detox. Your health is really only as good as the health of each of your cells. So movement is necessary for your cells to operate at their optimal capacity. Of course, much more is involved, but this basic fact was motivational for me.
So…start walking. Start moving. You don’t have to do high intensity interval training (HIIT) to call it exercise. Now that’s great if you want to. I still lift weights. But all you need to do is move throughout the day. Maybe you need to take a short morning walk and a short afternoon walk. You can buy a step counter on Amazon for around $20. It’s powerful feedback.
Number three is hydration. I’m a little bit of a rebel and I don’t do things until I know the reason. So if you just tell me to drink eight glasses of water a day, I think, “Ha, I’d rather drink coffee.” But then I learned one of the reasons to drink water: Cells have to be hydrated so that they can expel toxins (think of a wrinkly, dried up cell, trying to push toxins out). Coffee and alcoholic beverages dehydrate you. (By the way, a very healthy purchase is the Berkey water filter. It’s a big silver bin that you put on your counter and fill up with tap water. It filters out all the harmful substances in tap water and allows your family to have constant access to healthy water. It’s pricey so maybe put it on the someday list.)
And one more tip as far as hydration: A guru doctor we know said that taking colloidal minerals was an important step for cells to be adequately hydrated. (This biochemistry is beyond me, but I now daily drink a couple teaspoons of Colloidal Minerals Liquid by NOW Supplements, available on Amazon.)
Number four, stop harmful bad habits (which is this week’s lesson). You already know that some bad habits are extremely harmful to your health. Smoking, for example, is a terrible habit and has been discussed for decades. But what is not discussed as often are the harmful effects of excess alcohol. Alcohol is attractively packaged poison. I know the Bible talks about the beauty of wine but many experts insist that the alcohol in the Greco-roman days was diluted and served with mixers. It was considered gauche to drink alcohol without mixers in high societies. There are different opinions on this, but some scholars say it was as much as one to two times less strong. Anyhow, if you drink 5 ounces a day or less, according to current standards, you are safe from harmful effects. (Just beware that 5 ounces is a little more than half a cup; it’s not a full red Solo cup.)
Number five is good sleep. Your body actually does its major repair work while you’re sleeping. I understand that you don’t want to be a slug and oversleep, but you’ve got to find the sweet spot between seven and nine hours so your body can repair. (Alcohol can disrupt your sleep cycle so, again, be very careful about your alcohol intake.)
Now let’s move to two other issues that surprisingly affect your health: The first subject is the quality of your relationships. Are you surprised? Researchers are now finding out that the quality of your relationships is huge to your health. Did you know that negative emotions, such as resentment and bitterness, create havoc in your body? It is so important to learn how to have good relationships! (Relationships are the topic of lesson 9 in Happy School. In addition, Wife School, Wife School Advanced, and Husband School address the importance of healthy relationships.) People frequently cannot heal their health until they deal with their deep resentments.
Another surprising entity that affects your health is prayer and meditation. One of my favorite health gurus, Dr. Josh Axe, puts prayer and meditation in his list of things to do to increase immunity. Of course that’s not the primary motivation to spend time in prayer, but it doesn’t hurt to know it’s good for you.
You hear constantly that stress negatively impacts your health. God made us to possess a freedom in our spirit if we are living and thinking a certain way. Constant negative stress and resentment are not on the list. Your body is listening in to your thoughts, and all of this affects you at a cellular level! If you don’t believe me, listen to Solomon: “A merry heart does good, like medicine, but a broken spirit dries the bones.” (Proverbs 17:22)
This was a flyby, as I’m just giving you some basics. To have radiant, bountiful mental (or physical) health, you can’t ignore that you’re one entity and every part of you is connected to every other part.
Note to readers if you struggle with consuming excess sugar and Trash Food
If your bad habit is consuming excess sugar and Trash Food, I have written an entire book called Skinny School, Where Women Learn the Secrets to Finally Get Thin Forever to help you escape that dungeon. Freedom from Trash Food is further explained in the free, online course, Skinny School Advanced, available HERE. As you might guess, this has been a struggle of mine since I was 15. But it is no longer a struggle because now I think a different way. You can learn to think differently about a carton of ice cream or a tray of brownies. Millions of people learn the secrets to overcome sugar addiction and eating Trash Food so there’s no reason you can’t learn the way out of that cage.
Note to readers if you struggle with living in a mess
If you live in a perpetual mess, know that it really diminishes your energy. If this is a problem for you, I recommend The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo.
My bad habit has had me in a cage for too long. I know it is not honoring to you, and it doesn’t make me happy either! Please, help me walk away from anything that doesn’t please You.
I know my bad habit has robbed me of lightness, happiness, and joy. And in that way, I have not been all I should be for those whom I love and those whom I’m here to serve. I want my short life to count in every way.
Thank you, Lord, for being a God of mercy, a God of forgiveness, and a God who delights in giving beauty for ashes. Please use my past of wasted time and energy, and spin it into something of beauty for You and others, as well as myself.
Thank You for calling me out of darkness into Your glorious light. Now I am ready to move closer to You and Your will for my life.
In Jesus’ name,
Questions for Group Discussion
- How has a bad habit harmed you? What have you lost because of your bad habit? Has your Lower Self tried to find a way to have the benefits of self-discipline without paying the cost?
- Bad habits are effective and powerful because they hide and block stress as well as provide color and zest. What are the main reasons you engage in bad habits?
- Do you see stopping as a tool to reach your dreams? Do you believe that discipline holds the keys to joy and freedom?
- Do you understand why the more disciplined you become, the easier your life gets? Did you know that your self-confidence will flourish because self-respect is a fruit of virtue and self-discipline?
- Does your bad habit cause you to be way less than you could be? What would your life be like if you made use of all your potential and didn’t have dissipation?
- Proverbs 15:32 says, “He who neglects discipline despises himself.” Have you experienced this verse? Did you know that you can’t be happy if you are ignoring discipline? To be happy, you have to remove the disagreement inside your mind. Are you ready to begin this process?
- Bad habits possess quite a resume of skills and services. No wonder that giving them up initially seems like you are sacrificing something important. Discuss how you feel about this with your group.
- The con job is that your bad habits lie and say that they soften life without any strings attached. There are strings attached to everything. Discuss how you feel about this.
- The way to stop bad habits is to attach more pleasure to not doing them. If you’re comfortable, share the benefits of stopping as well as the detriments of continuing with your group.
- The steps of overcoming bad habits are try, fail, analyze what went wrong, and repeat. Your Lower Nature doesn’t have 2000 schemes, only around 20. How are you doing with Listening to Your Parade and hearing and refuting the 20 schemes?
- An example of talking back to the urge/desire is, “I tried that bad habit and it didn’t work for me. It brought me harm. It’s true that I will get a temporary boost as it will numb and dull my current disappointment, but in the morning, I’ll be so glad I abstained!” What are you going to say to your Lower Self when an urge arises?
- You can’t prevent hurricanes and all car accidents, but you can certainly decide what you put in your body. It’s not a sacrifice. How could laying down a trouble-maker be a sacrifice?
- Sleep, healthy food, sunlight, fresh air, a lack of stress, tidying up, humor, the outdoors, prayer, lots of clean water, and being with people you like are all healing and helpful for rebuilding brain chemistry. Which of those activities work best for you?
- You—and no one else—are responsible for doing things you love, for enjoying your life. Do you do this?
- The bonus article was entitled Nutrition, Exercise, and Other Habits Affect Your Emotions. Which of those practices do you need to work on? Food? Movement? Hydration? Stopping harmful habits? Sleep? Quality of relationships? Prayer?
- Take a lot of time to comb through the 7 Mighty Steps (p. 86 in Happy School and discussed in Day 5 in this lesson). Share with your group which steps are easy for you and which steps are difficult.
- Explain how you feel about Bianca Sparacino’s quote, “You have dug your soul out of the dark, you have fought to be here, do not go back to what buried you.”
One Last Thought
Life is lived forward, but only understood backward. Take it from centuries of sages who insist that overcoming your Lower Self is non-disputable for arriving at the end of life and feeling the satisfaction of a life well-lived. Develop a hero’s mindset that knows obstacles are inevitable and therefore rise to meet the challenges of life, instead of slinking to comfort and escape. No discovery will ever eclipse the importance of human beings developing self-discipline. Self-control will always be one of the major secrets to happiness and satisfaction.
Self-discipline coupled with virtue truly makes or breaks you. It’s a joy and delight to not be burdened with bad habits.