Are there recurring struggles in your life that you keep coming back to in an existential, Huis Clos, endless loop kind of way? If you answered NO, please stop reading. You’re a liar, and the truth would be wasted on you.
Some of what I’m going to share today is a result of my being churched. I attended my first religious service when I was 6 days old. I would have gone sooner, but I was born on a Monday and had to wait nearly a week for Sunday School to roll around. By the time I was three, my mother would have me memorize outrageously long passages of scripture because I was like a parrot in both my ear for imitating sounds and my love of crackers.
And the last time I went to church was…let me see…yesterday. So yeah, I’ve been churched.
Church taught me the concept of REPENTANCE. Repentance means to (1) recognize the sinful condition of your heart, (2) identify the consequences of your continued sinfulness, (3) admit your inability to save yourself, and (4) turn from your evil ways. Sound familiar?
These four simple steps form a solid path for making changes take place in our lives. But if you don’t like the churchy-ness of the idea of repentance, maybe a more secular one will work for you.
Just a couple of weeks ago, a friend named Ray told me about a part of his life I hadn’t known before.
“I was a big boozer. And then I got into recreational drugs before moving into heroin,” he told me. “I wasn’t ready to recognize that I had a problem. But the state of Illinois Department of Correction forced me to recognize that I had a problem when I went to serve a 12-month jail sentence, and they found a bag of dope in my mouth.”
He told me about the path he took to turn his life around. It sounded a lot like (1) recognizing that he had a problem, (2) understanding that he would die if he continued drinking and drugging, (3) getting help for his addiction, and (4) turning his back on drinking and drugs.
Regardless if you are navigating your spiritual journey through life or negotiating behavioral change such as fighting an ingrained habit or addiction, the steps to getting to the next level are the same. If you want to make a change, follow these 4 steps:
- Recognize why you want/need to make a change.
- Acknowledge the consequences of not changing.
- Accept help for making change occur.
- Don’t set yourself up to step backwards.
Years ago I quit smoking. Well, sort of. I didn’t WANT to quit smoking. But I wanted to use the money I spent on cigarettes on something else. I knew that I couldn’t afford to smoke AND buy myself the man-toy I wanted. So I asked my friends to help by giving me a hard time if they saw me smoking, and I told them to not give me a cigarette even if I begged.
So far, these steps weren’t terrible. But I lacked a value-based reason to quit. My reason to quit was material and financial. The consequence for continued smoking would be insufficient funds to buy a new toy. Now I did a good thing by asking my friends for help, though. Accountability is a huge step when making change permanent.
But I failed miserably on the last step. I made frequent accommodations to fail. The first time I “cheated” and bought a pack of smokes, I felt terrible, like a failure. I was disgusted with myself. On the way home that night after buying my first pack of smokes after “quitting,” I threw the pack out the window. I’m done smoking, I told myself that night.
Guess what I saw on the road the next morning? The pack of cigarettes I threw out! I allowed this voice in my head to say, Technically, you’ve already spent the money on this pack. So it’s not going to cost any additional money to finish this one pack, is it?
I set myself up for failure. Soon, I made allowance for failure EACH NIGHT by throwing out the pack of smokes I bought during the day in the same spot each night when I returned home. I didn’t quit smoking at that time; instead, I became a highly inconvenienced smoker who had to collect a pack off the gravel road each morning.
Are you trying to change something in your life? Give these 4 steps a try. And if you find yourself struggling, that’s a very good sign. It means that you are fighting to resist falling back into the place from which you just came.
If you’re committing to eating healthful foods, don’t make allowances by purchasing Twinkies. If you’re quitting smoking, don’t just switch to an “ultra light” brand. If you’re trying to kick a porn addiction, don’t cover your walls with anything that looks like a “swimsuit edition.” If you need to lose the negative people in your life, don’t believe that you can accomplish that by spending more time with those same people while thinking happy thoughts.
And once you’ve turned things around, do not entertain for an even one moment that you can return to that place you’ve left behind. Consilio et animis…by wisdom and courage!