“The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Now that’s a sentiment we can all relate to. Whatever your personal views on the spirit might be, at some point we have all wanted to be different or better than we are. We all know the feeling of failing to live up to our own intentions. Turning intentions into actions has always been a tough job, but today I want to talk about a couple of strategies for making it happen.
Last week, we talked about a simple, useful metric for determining whether your heart is in the right place: ironically, temptation itself can be a sign that you’re on the right track. After all, you don’t get lured to somewhere that you already are, and you don’t generally get tempted to intentions that you’re already living by—you’d just act on them, with no temptation required. This is a good first step, because it lets you check that your intentions are good before you start translating them to actions. Of course, governing those actions is a whole different ball game.
One of the best pieces of advice I’ve found also comes from ancient manuscripts, advising that we “take every thought captive” (to make it obedient to God). You’ve probably heard that line before, and probably concluded that it wasn’t meant to be taken literally. I mean, cross-examining every single thought that came into your head would be such an obsessive task that you wouldn’t have time for anything else! Well, that’s true if you think of subjecting every thought to the same level of scrutiny, but I find that these old proverbs hold up well when you spare a thought for how they could really be put into practice.
So let’s assume that this passage is meant to be interpreted somewhat literally, but that the intention behind it is a practical possibility for us humans. I think the first thing that trips us up is our mental image of a “captive.” We imagine a situation where a person is locked up in isolation, at considerable effort. But that concept can be used in softer ways, too. Its meaning can be as simple as something beholden to a controlling force. You might simply think of it as making all our thoughts collectively captive to faith, rather than going one at a time. For the most part, you only need to get concerned with individual thoughts once you know you have a problem.
On the other hand, once you go to work on a specific bad habit, you do need to be thorough. The most success I’ve ever had in this area has been through this method. Once you identify a negative pattern in your life that needs to change, you have to address those thoughts, and you can’t let a single one slip past you. The action here doesn’t need to be complicated, just a quick prayer or a releasing statement—even a few words. The key is to make that small, mental effort consistently, every time it naturally comes up in your brain. From a psychological perspective, this is reconditioning your unconscious mind by conscious repetition. Habits tend to become so deeply ingrained because they influence your behavior so frequently and naturally throughout your day. In a lot of cases, I think it is their pervasiveness, as much as their chemical addictiveness, that makes them so hard to break. In order to set things right, then, your counterattack should be equally pervasive.
I should take a step back here to acknowledge that not all addictions are made equal. It should go without saying (but I’ll say anyway) that this is merely a tool, not a miracle cure. Even so, I’ve found it to be a powerful one, and I hope you’ll give it a chance next time you have a habit to change. Just keep in mind that trying it for a few days probably won’t be enough. But stay diligent, and in time your subconscious will get the message.
Have a blessed, wonderful day!