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To Your Health

Living Free – Finding Freedom From Habits That Hurt

Vicky Griffin


Habits—we all have them. American author Elbert Hubbard said, “Habit is the great economizer of energy.” He was exactly right.

Habits are our friends—when they’re good ones. Habits are routines that help us perform multiple tasks with minimal mental effort. They help us repeat safe and effective behaviors and build consistency and security into our lives.

The brain is constantly learning new ways to increase the efficiency with which we perceive and respond to our world. Habits—the brain’s automatic pilot—enable us to perform safe, effective routines that help us cope with daily life.

Bad habits can sometimes become addictions. The addiction picture is bigger than drugs. Howard Shaffer, who heads the Division of Addictions at Harvard University, asserts that drug use “is not a necessary and sufficient cause of addiction. It is improper to consider drugs as the necessary precondition for addiction…. A lot of addiction is the result of experience: repetitive, high-emotion, high-frequency experience.”

Stanford University psychologist Brian Knutson agrees: “It stands to reason if you can derange these circuits with pharmacology (drugs), you can do it with natural rewards too.”

“What is coming up fast as being the central core issue…is continued engagement in self-destructive behavior despite adverse consequences,” says Steven Grant of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

With this expanded definition, addictions can take the form of not only drugs but food, gambling, shopping, overwork, sex, television, or any other activity that becomes excessive, destructive, or compulsive.

Addiction of any kind has many possible roots, including emotional, spiritual, physical, environmental, and genetic. It is important to understand the strength of the enemy in order to develop a strategy for decided victory. Addictions can creep into the lives of the vulnerable or unwary in many forms, crossing all racial, class, social, educational, and economic boundaries with cold impartiality. Emotional, behavioral, spiritual, and lifestyle factors are involved in addictions. Finding lasting freedom requires positive change in every one of these areas.

But the weapons available to win the war against addiction are mighty. They include creating an environment, both internal and external; creating a lifestyle; creating a community; and most importantly, creating a spiritual connection.

Brain structure is not predetermined and fixed—even when early experience has not been good. Neuropsychiatrist John Ratey makes an important point: “We humans are not prisoners of our genes or our environment….It may be harder for people with certain genes or surroundings, but harder is a long way from predetermination.”

People make dramatic mid-life career changes, master new skills, adopt healthful lifestyles after years of wrong habits, make positive changes in the way they relate to people after years of dysfunctional relationships, and learn to enjoy new activities, hobbies, foods, and friends. All this human dynamism involves change— genetic, neuronal, and hormonal.

We have all heard the expression, “Practice makes perfect.” Practice also makes “permanent.” That is, the performance of a given task or behavior improves or strengthens with repetition. This is because the brain is wonderfully elastic, or changeable, throughout life. The processes of thinking, learning, and memory are dynamic and ongoing.

God often uses the things we can see to help us understand the things we cannot see. Man was originally endowed with a noble spirit and a well-balanced mind, but now mankind is broken and in need of healing. God compares our broken condition with a storm-ravaged city. “A person without self control is like a city that is broken down, and without walls.”

Remember Hurricane Katrina? That massive storm broke key levees in New Orleans in 2005, leaving the city’s infrastructure ravaged and defenseless. A stormdamaged city such as this ceases normal function. Plans for development and growth are shelved as the city switches into survival mode. The city is vulnerable to vandalism and violence; no sector is left untouched. It is in need of renewal, restoration, and recovery.

What an apt description of the human brain, broken down over time by stress, depression, bad habits, and addictions.

People with addictions feel they have lost the power to choose what they rationally know is right. Knowing that the brain can recover from addictions and learn new habits is exciting. As Dr. Schwartz puts it, “With the ability to shape our brains comes the power to shape our destiny.”

One of the hardest struggles of the human heart is to realize the need of a power outside of oneself. It is natural to think independently, to try to solve all of life’s perplexities without help. But our Creator knows we need His help, power, and guidance in order to successfully manage ourselves and our life situation. We need to let God have control in our lives.

Often the single biggest issue for someone struggling to break free from an addiction is trust. An attempt to factor out pain often leads to an excessive need to control the people or circumstances in one’s life. But if the need to control is not replaced with trust, a person will eventually replace one addiction with another.

The Bible teaches us that when we turn our lives completely over to God’s control, He will equip us to face life’s challenges and give us a new heart—a new way of looking at life. He will guide us in the right way and at last grant us eternal life. He invites us to “[t]rust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths.”

Getting free and staying free from addictions or bad habits requires applying biblical keys to life that impact the internal environment—how we think, our external environment and lifestyle choices, the community we surround ourselves with, and most importantly, cultivating a strong connection with our Savior, the Author of freedom and liberty.