How Good Habits Break Bad (and How to Make Them Good Again)

A year ago this week, our family moved to a new town, and a lot changed.

But my lunchtime didn’t.

Even though it should have.

In our old town, the kids’ school started at 9am, which meant our family ate breakfast around 8 o’clock. Then, I’d get hungry for lunch around noon. In our new town, however, the school bell rings at 7:35am, so our whole morning schedule got bumped up almost 90 minutes.

For weeks, 11am would roll around, and I’d get ravenous.

bad habits

Photo Credit: Bigstock (

For weeks, I wondered what was wrong with me. Had my metabolism somehow sped up in this new place? Had my stomach grown? For weeks, I wondered and I hungered—for at least an hour—until my habitual lunch time rolled around. The problem, it turns out, wasn’t my hunger; it was my habit.

Sometimes reality changes, but our habits don’t.

And sometimes the effects of this are relatively benign—a growling stomach for an hour or two. But, sometimes, when reality changes and our habits don’t, the effects are vast and pervasive—a kind of life-long hunger for something better and more beautiful.

For instance, if we grow up in a home with critical words, protection is the only good habit to develop. But then, one day, we find our people—the ones who are grace to us, the ones who love us just the way we are—and yet we continue to protect, to hide, to distance.

Reality has changed, but our habits haven’t.

Or, for instance, if we grow up in a home with dismissive words—words that make us feel small and inconsequential, tiny and meaningless—we align our habits with that reality. We keep ourselves small. Cage our dreams. Smother our passions. We make a habit of stuffing all this big, beautiful stuff down inside of us. But then, one day, someone catches a glimpse of the light inside of us, and they ask to see more of it. They want us to shine. Yet, out of habit, we cover our light anyway.

Reality has changed, but our habits haven’t.

A few nights ago, I gave in to an old habit.

I was in the midst of requesting permission from Mary Oliver to reprint her poem, “Wild Geese,” in my upcoming book. Permissions can be a lengthy process, so I was eager to keep it moving along, but more than a month after emailing all of the requested materials to her agent, I hadn’t heard anything. So, I checked my email, to confirm when I’d sent it.

And it wasn’t there.

It appeared as if the email had never gone out.

A month wasted. Deadlines looming, and the poem is the anchor to the final chapter of the book. I sat at my computer alone, madly typing search words, hoping against hope to find the email. You see, I’m used to feeling all alone with my problems and my crises. That has been my reality. So, I’ve formed the habit of dealing with them on my own. Yet, as I smacked away at the keyboard, it occurred to me:

My reality had changed, but my habits hadn’t.

I was hungry for help, and now I can dish up whenever I want.

So, I went to my wife and explained my dilemma. She suggested I text my agent, who’d been copied on the email, and ask her if she had received a copy of it. My agent quickly responded. She had received the email. Though it couldn’t be found on my hard drive, it had been sent. All was well.

These days, in our new town, I have a good, new habit: I eat lunch around 11am. And these days, I’m trying to embrace my new reality by breaking my old habit of making every mission a solo mission.

What have you been hungering for?

How have you been depriving yourself of it, because of your old habits?

What is your new reality?

What will your new lunchtime be?

And what good thing will you feast upon?

You can leave a comment by clicking here.


Free eBook: My eBook, The Marriage Manifesto: Turning Your World Upside Down, is available free to new blog subscribers. If you are not yet a subscriber, you can click here to subscribe, and your confirmation e-mail will include a link to download the eBook. Or, the book is also now available for Kindle and Nook

Kelly is a licensed clinical psychologist and co-founder of Artisan Clinical Associates in Naperville, IL. He is also a writer and blogs regularly about the redemption of our personal, relational, and communal lives. Kelly is married, has three children, and enjoys learning from them how to be a kid again. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

13 thoughts on “How Good Habits Break Bad (and How to Make Them Good Again)

  1. I have a habit of crying when I read your posts because, “What! You too? I thought that no one but myself…” CS Lewis

  2. I don’t know how your blog came to my attention in the first place but it always touches me deeply. Thank you for sharing your gifts.

  3. Going solo in my heart in this life filled with Beloveds is my constant challenge. I love your words. I easily become a chameleon to whatever needs my people present to me in this large web of life connections. When they are well, I am well. It’s a habit to think that way. The Lord is helping me sort this, but without him as my constant companion, I never could. Your writing is ever poignant and Spirit led. Thank you 🙂
    (Exciting also to hear details of your book!)

    • I think us chameleons resonate with each other, Grace. 🙂 I’m glad this could be a little encouragement to make your own needs known. And I’ll have more details about the book as we get into the fall!

  4. “Yet, out of habit, we cover our light anyway.”
    No. So wrong. Habits are easy to break. In the context it is mentioned, this makes light of those who have and continue to really struggle. If only it was just a habit!

    • This post wasn’t intended to offend anyone (aka all of us) who have struggles, my perception was that this is about habits soley…creating, reshifting and embracing new ones. My 18 year old lost her best friend to a tragic accident on a lake 2 years ago. She was suppose to be on that lake and cancelled last minute. She’s struggled with depression ever since, and 53 days ago tried to end her life. (and didn’t succeed thank God)…that is real struggle. That is pain. For all of us. And I got in the “habit” of ignoring it. Minimizing it. Not even recognizing it… Because i didn’t understand. So despite real struggle, in the midst of real struggle, I’d encourage you dear soul, to find strength, ask for help, and develop “habits” that would allow peace and strength to surround you. Habits – wether good or bad,- when recognized… are what keeps us in check and allows for growth…even if very slowly. Many blessings of peace…

  5. Thank You Kelly! Thanks for putting this so clear, such a good reinforcement for lessons I need to re-learn if I want to move forward in the journey… and this is a “big” one for me… Gracias!

  6. Thanks Dr. K….this really is a blog that I look for weekly to gain new perspective and strength from. I appreciate the time and timing:) I appreciate the transparency, because through it, we all see ourselves more clearly. Many thanks and blessings to you.
    Jodi Jantomaso

  7. How much letting go does it take to
    “treat others as you would like them to treat you” ?
    For me is a daily reminder that my reality has changed, and that
    ” I don’t live there any more” (in negative habits.)
    Thank you Dr. K. I enjoy your posts.

  8. HOORAY for this post! Isn’t it crazy that once we know we’re supported and loved and buoyed by a loving Father and community, we still behave like we’re stuck and alone? LOL

Comments are closed.