How Your Habits Show and Shape Your Heart

The word "habit" can have such a negative feel. It can bring to mind smoking, alcoholism, or drug addition. Or something simply unappealing and annoying, like nail-biting, lip-smacking, or loud public itching of dry skin. Habits can be nasty little things. They can also save your life. Like the habit of looking both ways before crossing the street. Or putting on your seatbelt, and pressing the brakes when the light ahead turns yellow. Or the habit of making a beeline for the Bible first thing in the morning.

Habits make Stephen Curry the NBA's best shooter, Mike Trout baseball's best hitter, and Jordan Spieth the world's most promising young golfer. Habits keep a NASCAR driver from losing control and going airborne when he's nudged going into Turn 3 at Daytona. And it's organizational habits that make Fortune 500 companies excel beyond their competitors.

The Science of Habit

While the human brain remains the final frontier of medical science, today's cutting-edge research continues to put some of the enigmatic pieces together related to our habits. Bestselling books like Charles Duhigg's The Power of Habit and Gretchen Rubin's Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives now are popularizing this new science and helping us to think about our habits — where they come from and how to improve them.

At the heart of habit is the brilliance of our Creator. Making decisions takes time and energy, and habits keep us from having to make the same decisions over and over again:

Habits, scientists say, emerge because the brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort. Left to its own devices, the brain will try to make almost any routine into a habit, because habits allow our minds to ramp down more often. (The Power of Habit, 17)

And when our minds ramp down related to our routine actions, they stand ready to engage with something new or more important. With a habit, the decision is already made, and the bandwidth of our mind, so to speak, is free to us to focus our energy and attention elsewhere. "The real key to habits is decision making,"writes Rubin, "or, more accurately, the lack of decision making" (Better than Before, 5).

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