You told yourself this would be the last time. And you were serious. But here you are…again. Viewing porn. Beating yourself in the ground. Spouting off at your spouse. Thinking cynically. Comparing yourself to others. Getting drunk. For whatever reason, you can’t seem to break it. You have battled for months, even years. But it continues to show up. Like that annoying friend you try to avoid…but the harder you try, the more often he or she pops up.
You know the one.
In anger, you think, “Why can’t I overcome this? What is wrong with me?”
Here’s the problem. You have a bad habit. That sounds trivial, I know. But stick with me. You see, I have been there. For years, I asked the same questions as I battled an addiction to porn. I allowed shame and hopelessness to saturate my heart. After every reoccurrence, with a sincere heart, I would vow never to view porn again. But I wasn’t serious.
I can make that claim today on the other side of my addiction. In my conversations with people struggling with porn addiction, I can usually tell within a matter of minutes if the individual is serious about breaking their habit. Sadly, most like the idea, but they aren’t prepared to take the steps necessary to break the cycle.
“So, Frank. What steps are necessary?”
Before I get there, I need to say this.
I am not a professional (unless someone can become professional at being awesome). I am a normal guy. I listen to Ed Sheeran and One Direction (when no one is around). I dance (yes, at parties) when the opportunity presents itself. I hate when church leaders use churchy words to make themselves appear more holy than everyone else. And I like to play golf at cheap courses because I’m not that good. Normal people stuff.
That’s important. Here’s why.
Defeating habitual sin isn’t a complex formula that can only be solved by the professionals. Finding the answers doesn’t require a certain level of intellect. It does, however, require a certain level of desire and faith.
So, be forewarned. The answers might be simple, but breaking your habit will be anything but easy. As the great philosophers, the Avett Brothers, once said, “Lazy men find an easy way. Easy work for easy pay.” Here are 8 very simple (but not easy) keys to breaking your habitual sin.
1.) Don’t blame anyone else. Ever.
One word separates most people who break bad habits from those who don’t, regardless of how severe. That word is “but.” If you want to stop being cynical, stop turning to alcohol or porn, or anything in between, then stop blaming other people.
What separates people who break habitual sins is the word “but.” Don’t blame other people.TWEET THIS!
Hey, I get it. You have legitimate excuses. Your spouse sucks. Your culture at work is toxic. You have red hair. But it’s like my football coach (another great philosopher…not really) always told us when we tried to explain away a missed tackle or a dropped pass, “Excuses are like rear-ends. Everybody has one…and they all stink.”
That might be crude. But it’s real.
In Galatians 5, Paul lists the fruits of the Spirit. The last fruit is rarely discussed in Christian circles, but it’s incredibly important. Self-control.
Self-control is the idea that the only person in control of you is…you. If anyone or anything forces your hand, you’re not in control of yourself. As you grow in Christ, you should become more in control of yourself. That starts by putting down the blaming stick.
2.) Be willing to take radical steps.
Since I made my struggle with porn addiction public, I have talked with dozens of people about their struggle. Those who reached out to me were eager to make a change, and most everyone asked me for answers. So, I told them what worked for me.
And the way most people responded, you would have thought I open-hand slapped their mom. Twice.
Here’s the trend I noticed. Most people like the idea of defeating a habitual sin or thought pattern, but very few people are willing to do whatever it takes to defeat it. And, to be fair, that was my attitude for years. I wanted to change, but I wasn’t willing to sacrifice my comfort to do so.
Then my life rock bottom. My marriage, relationship with my boys, and my career, were all hanging by a thread.
So, I went to counseling. At night, my wife took every electronic device in the house and locked them in a safe (including her phone and computer). I didn’t watch tv. I was even willing to quit my job.
Just being honest, it was freaking hard and at times miserable.
But I knew I could only combat my full blown problem with an all out attack. The same is probably true for you. So, if your struggle is porn and you work in isolation, you might need to find a new job. If you struggle with lust, you probably should stop going to the pool and the beach. If you struggle with cynicism and your friends are a big reason why, it’s probably best to find new friends.
“But, Frank, you’re asking me to change my life. I don’t think breaking my habit requires all that.” First, see point one about the word “but.” Second, that’s fine, but if you’re avoiding the right decision because it’s hard, it’s unlikely anything will change.
The people who are willing to do whatever it takes are usually the ones who break the cycle.
3.) Believe you can change. I mean, really believe.
This is probably the most important point. If you don’t believe you are capable of change, you won’t change. When I went to counseling, this principle was stated multiple times. At the time, it seemed odd, but now I get it.
For years, I wanted to break the cycle. But I didn’t believe I could. My counselor challenged me to change my attitude. He convinced me I could win. And he was right.
I could win. And you can too.
If you’re asking where God is in all of this, he is in the center of everything. Your ability to change is tied to your faith in God. Alcoholics Anonymous gets this. The majority of people who maintain their sobriety implement all the steps and undergird those with belief in a “higher power.” Of course, I know that “higher power” has a name…God.
You CAN stop yelling at your spouse, overeating, or smoking. You can break any destructive habit in your life. But you must believe.
4.) Recognize your triggers.
This was the biggest revelation I received at counseling. And it applies across the board, regardless of your habitual issue. There are particular life events and circumstances that trigger your problem. Once you identify those triggers, you are in a position to break the cycle.
Here were my triggers: stress (usually from school or job), lack of sleep, and nights. Once I identified my triggers, I took steps to manage them. You can’t break a habit until you realize the actions, circumstances or thoughts that trigger it.
Take a minute. Think about the circumstances leading up to your habitual sin. Write down everything. What’s constant? Those are your triggers.
5.) Take care of your body.
It’s remarkable how much exercising, sleeping, and eating right affect your perception of the world. I mean, really. I could be mad at everyone…for no reason in particular. But give me a Sunday afternoon nap, and suddenly I see everything through rose-colored glasses.
So, get some sleep. Stop watching Netflix til 2. Don’t slob around. Join a gym. Go run. Do something that requires physical exertion, even if you don’t like to exercise. Stop eating unhealthy food in ridiculously large portions. Even if you order a ton of food, you don’t have to eat it all. You understand that, right?
Take care of your body. You will need it to break your habit.
6.) Re-define normal…right now.
The enemy to defeating habitual sin is normalcy. Bad habits, just like good ones, enjoy normalcy. It is there that your habitual sin strengthens its grip on your life.
Recently, I was talking with a guy who did some stuff that would probably land him jail time. During one of our first conversations, I asked him to give me one takeaway from his actions. His response?
“I must re-define normal.”
As soon as he said that, I thought to myself, “This guy is going to break the cycle.”
He understood he had to create a new normal. And he used a tragic mistake as an opportunity to seize this new normal. If you want to stop the cycle you must do something (maybe everything) different. You can’t continue to do the same thing and expect a different result.
Albert Einstein called that insanity. Don’t be insane.
7.) Celebrate small wins.
We live in a culture of fame and stardom. Success is determined by the size of your spotlight. But fame and stardom are enemies of small wins. And here’s the irony: you can’t achieve fame without small wins. You can’t achieve anything of significance without small wins.
Your ultimate goal is to stop dipping out of the same toxic well. And anything short of that is a loss. Right?
The path to breaking the cycle is formed by small wins. At least, that my was experience. And while those dudes can be elusive, you must identify them. The people who change their lives (and the world) are the ones who focus on, and celebrate, every win.
Identify the final destination. But focus on the journey. Lao Tzu said it this way, “The journey of 1,000 miles begins with one step.” Take a step. Celebrate it. Take another. Celebrate again. This is the stuff of transformation.
8.) Find at least one person who has what you don’t.
Do you know someone who currently sits where you want to be? If not, you should. These people can provide insight and encouragement. They will inspire you to change. Every time you think, “This is impossible,” you have a living testament that says, “No, you can change. Look at me.”
Sometimes that’s the push you need to get over the edge. You need to see people on the other side living with joy. You need to see people on the other side flourishing.
So, find someone who has what you don’t.
For years, I thought my habit couldn’t be broken. But I was caught in a toxic lie. The truth is you can overcome. You can change. You can become the person you want to be.
But you must be willing to work and embrace the journey. You must be willing to make sacrifices. You must be willing to trust God completely.
I want to hear from you. What keys do you believe are important for breaking habitual sin? Leave a comment below.
I love you all. To God be the glory forever. Amen!