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An Excursus On Habits
I want to take a quick excursus from the practical side of passing on your faith, instructing your kids, to talk about the mechanics behind why that is important, and to frame some of the language that I’ll be using. So let’s look at three particular questions in this post:
1.What is a habit?
Habits are more than just things that we do – rather they are patterns of life. They are the products of actions repeated over and over and over and over again. An example of a habit might be something as simple as brushing your teeth twice a day. If you have been habituated to brush your teeth twice a day, then when you end up going to bed without doing so, you may end up lying in bed feeling very uncomfortable, until you go back to the bathroom sink and brush your teeth, giving you a feeling of completeness. This is a habit, and it illustrates some of the power of a good habit (virtue). There are also bad habits (vices) which can lead to all sorts of trouble including addiction – we all know the classics – alcohol, drugs, smoking, and pornography (you can read a series that we did on porn by clicking here). There are, however, many others also – social media, food, gaming, technology – plenty of bad habits to go around.
As we repeat an action, the brain lays down pathways that make it easier each time that we perform the action, so that when we come to perform it the next time, the task is a little less difficult – that is why practice makes perfect! Eventually, this behaviour is so habitual that we do it without thinking, we have programmed ourselves to react in a certain way given certain circumstances, this is a habit, because we do it without thinking it is automatic.
With that definition in mind, let’s move on to the next question:
2. Why are habits so important?
From the definition given above, we can infer why habits are so important in our life: because the have great power. They take a lot of effort to create or form – those pathways in our brains won’t lay themselves down! But once they are formed, they are extremely hard to break – if you have ever tried to change the time that you wake up, you’ll know what I mean! But you can train yourself to act in a different way, that’s the good news, that you can change yourself.
Imagine if you have built up a whole set of habits that have helped you to improve your life – and by our definition these are actions that you do without thinking – exercise, eating the right food, spending time on the right behaviours that will add value to the years you have, and maybe even allow you to have a few more years! These actions are powerful because they enable us to live a life of virtue with only an initial effort at the start, then, once a habit is formed, it will powerfully drive our life forward in that particular direction.
So you can see why habits are important, and why it’s important to be aware of the habits that we currently engage in, and to be trying to form new, virtuous habits all the time.
So, on to question 3:
3. How can we help our kids develop good habits?
In the context of these posts, this is the question that matters. We now understand the value and the power of habit, so how can we help our kids form good habits?
Well, we can start by being aware of the habits that they already have – do they watch too much TV? Do they spend too much time on their devices? Do they complete their homework? Do they brush their teeth at night? Take an inventory of the current habits that your kids have, and then make a list of the habits that you’d like them to engage in. Pick one, the most important one, or the first one on the list, and then – and this is key – do it with them.
As a parent, you have to be the one who models the particular behaviour with them, and this is easier if you start when they’re younger. If you want them to do their homework, sit down with them and either help them, or do something alongside them, and be there for them, but you have to make it consistent. Pick a time each evening, and without fail, rather than badgering them to do it, when the time comes you simply sit down, and invite them to join you, that you have some work that needs doing and they can do their work at the same time. If you want them to read their bible each day, then, before they go to bed, you sit down with them and read it to them, or if they are older, read it with them, or have them read it to you.
This is the difficult thing with parenting, often we have to form these habits ourselves, to model for our kids, and to invite them in to the experience, what it is that we want them to do. The truth is though, if we are forming enough good habits in their lives, then they won’t have time to indulge in the habits that are not as good for them.
Join us in the next post to look at some really practical ways that we can pass on our faith to our kids!