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.

[featured-image link=”null” link_single=”inherit” single_newwindow=”false” alt=”bad habits” title=”bigstock-Food-Table-Healthy-Delicious-O-92994914″]Photo Credit: Bigstock (RawPixel.com)[/featured-image]

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?

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In his debut novel, Kelly weaves a page-turning, plot-twisting tale that explores the spiritual depths of identity and relationships, amidst themes of healing, grace, faith, forgiveness, and freedom.

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About Kelly

Dr. Kelly Flanagan is a psychologist, author, consultant, and speaker who enjoys walking with people through the three essentials of a truly satisfying life: worthiness, belonging, and purpose. His blog writings have been featured in Reader’s Digest, The Huffington Post, The 5 Love Languages, and the TODAY Show. Kelly is the author of Loveable and True Companions.