Here’s the latest from the crossroads of faith, media & culture: 11/03/21

Do It for a Day: How to Make or Break Any Habit in 30 Days. That’s the at-once provocative and promising title of the just-released book from motivational speaker and National Community Church Pastor Mark Batterson.

JWK: What led you to tackle this particular subject?

Mark Batterson: At the end of the day, our habits are going to make us or break us. Show me your habits, I’ll show you your future. You are what you repeatedly do. I even feel like spiritual formation is habit formation. So, what I wanted to do was not just write a book that introduced the concept intellectually but wanted to write a book that would help people make or break habits practically. The book actually doesn’t have chapters. It has days – 30 days that are designed to help people make or break habits. Whether they be physical, relational or spiritual, it’s about walking people through a process of making or breaking the habits that make or break them.

JWK: You write about seven sort of life-changing principles or habits. You care to run through them quickly? What do you mean, for example, by Flip the Script?

MB: The idea there is, if you want to change your life, you have to change your story. It’s really important to understand the narrative – the story – that you’re telling yourself. Part of habit formation is really that habit becoming part of your identity. So, I think habit formation starts with flipping the script.

The second one is Kiss the Wave. The obstacle is not the enemy. The obstacle is the way. It’s those challenges that we face that help us become who God wants us to be. It was Charles Spurgeon who said “I’ve learned to kiss the wave that throws me against the Rock of Ages.”

The third on is Eat the Frog. The idea there is you don’t find time. You have to make time. You have to find a way to prioritize the things that are important.

 Fly the Kite is, if you do little things like they’re big things, God will do big things like they’re little things.

Cut the Rope. Playing it safe is risky. At some point you have to take a risk. Faith is taking the first step before God reveals the second step.

Wind the Clock. Time is measured in minutes. Life is measured in moments. Learning to capture those moments is pretty critical.

Finally, Seed the Clouds. You have to sow today what you want to see tomorrow.

So, that’s sort of a quick overview of those seven habits.

JWK: You take part of your inspiration from the Sermon on the Mount. Can you explain?

MB: Yeah, absolutely. The science of habit formation has come a long way. It’s pretty amazing the advances (made) because of things like neuroimaging. We have a better understanding of how habits are made and broken but the reality is habit formation is as old as the Sermon on the Mount. What Jesus is doing is changing our habits. There are six counter-habits, if you will, in the Sermon on the Mount. Love Your Enemies, Pray for Those Who Persecute You, Bless Those Who Curse You, Turn the Other Cheek, Go the Extra Mile and Give the Shirt Off of Your Back. It’s these six counter-habits – is what I would call them – that really alter the way that we live our lives.

JWK: I’m kind of surprised you’re talking about 30 days and not 40 days since you’re basing this on the Bible.

MB: You know it’s funny, John, years ago I wrote Draw the Circle: The 40 Day Prayer Challenge. I thought about doing 40 days. I felt like 30 days would at least give us a running start. You know, the estimates vary between 21 to 254 days to make or break a habit. The reality is it depends on the person (and) it depends on the habit.

JWK: What is the Anxiety Prompt that you talk about in the book?

MB: It’s this idea in Philippians 4 – “Don’t be anxious about anything but, in everything, by prayer and petition with thanksgiving present your request to God and the peace that surpasses all understanding will guard your heart and your mind.”

When we experience anxiety – right now a third of Americans are experiencing either anxiety or depression – what we have to do is take that stimulus and we’ve gotta change the response. In other words, turn it into prayer.

A couple of practical examples. It’s not hard for us to pray for the people that we love the most. That’s almost a natural expression but, I think, learning to pray for the people that maybe we like the least – the people that get under our skin, the people that maybe don’t treat us the right way, the people (for whom) a little extra grace (is) required – learning to pray for those people is a good example of how you turn anxiety into a positive prompt.

Another example would be don’t just watch the news, pray the news! When you’re watching something, pray for it, pray often, become part of the solution so that you aren’t just in a position where you’re consuming media. If you’re gonna watch the news, why don’t you pray it, pray for the situations that you’re seeing? So, it’s this idea of taking everyday things that happen around us and turning them into prompts for prayer.

JWK: It sometimes seems like social media prompts us to go the other way – to reach with anger toward those with whom we disagree.

MB: Yeah, if we aren’t careful we are shaped by the culture around us. One of the questions, John, that I’m asking a lot these days – and part of this goes back to the fact that the average person spends 142 minutes on social media every day which represents about 15 percent of our waking hours – is what percentage of your words, thoughts and actions are a regurgitation of the news you’re watching and the social media you’re following and what percentage is a revelation that you’re getting from God’s Word. I think it’s really important right now that we take our cues from Scripture.

On that count, I think one of the best daily habits that a person can cultivate is a daily Bible reading plan. Just find a way to get that daily dose of Scripture. That’s something that, in the long run, will change the trajectory of our lives. I think it’s about learning to worry less about outcomes that we cannot control and focus a little bit more on those inputs that we can control.

JWK: Your book also takes some inspiration from outside the Bible – for instance, Benjamin Franklin. What does he have to teach us?

MB: He was not just a Founding Father but probably a founding father of habit formation. He had 13 virtues that he identified that he was trying to cultivate and even designed his own habit journal, in a sense, and used it to make or break some of those habits that he was working on.

So, I think one other thing that we probably have to learn from Franklin is habit formation is a team sport. It’s not just something that we do personally. It helps if you involve some other people. One, it keeps you accountable and two, (drawing on) my experience, I biked a century this year. That was kinda one of the challenges that I went after. It involved a lot of training, a lot of hard work but I did it with my son. That made it a lot more meaningful, a lot more enjoyable. So, Benjamin Franklin formed what he called the Leather Apron Club. It was a pretty eclectic gathering of people who really challenged each other – the way that they thought, the way that they lived. I think it’s important that we surround ourselves with the right people. In fact, I would probably argue – and this is a little bit of a tip of the cap to Jesus and His disciples – that we generally become the average of the 12 people we spend the most time with. So, let’s be careful that we’re surrounding ourselves with people that will stretch our faith, that will speak the truth in love, that will challenge us as we grow into our faith in Christ.

JWK: You also mention Winston Churchill as a source of inspiration.

MB: I find it fascinating (that) there was a season in his life where he had to take a little sabbatical (after) experiencing some stress and, fun fact, became a pretty adept bricklayer and he talked about this idea of 200 bricks a day. How do you cultivate habits? Well, whatever it is, you gotta do it one day at a time. That really is the heartbeat behind the book. It doesn’t matter what goal you’re going after. It’s gonna happen one day at a time. So, what you have to do is reverse engineer those goals. Turn them into daily habits and then find ways to put that into practice one day at a time.

JWK: It’s one thing to develop a good habit. How do you break a bad one?

MB: Here’s what I believe, John. I believe that you don’t stop sinning by not sinning. You need a vision that’s bigger and better than the temptation you face. What breaks a bad habit is to cultivate a good habit. It’s called habit switching. I write a little bit about it in the book. You have to find a way to cultivate some kind of positive habit that’s gonna help you and, really, take the place of that negative habit…I think right at the heart of that is probably cultivating a prayer habit.

JWK: So, if you could boil it down, what do you hope people take from your book?

MB: Well, Day 1, the challenge is to pick a habit – any habit. Then you have to make it measurable, meaningful, maintainable. I think my hope and prayer for the book is that people will transform their life one habit at a time. I really believe – and I’ll say it pretty succinctly and pretty simply – show me your habits and I’ll show you your future. You are what you repeatedly do. Destiny is not a mystery. Destiny is daily habits. So, my goal is to help people make or break those habits one day at a time. I really hope and pray that the book will help people do that. It’s designed so that so that it’s divided into 30 days and I think it’ll help people gain some momentum, gain some confidence as they try to make and break some of those habits.

End Note: Besides Do It for a Day, Mark Batterson is also out with his second children’s book The Blessing of You (co-written with his daughter Summer), a delightful read about being secure in God’s love and, flowing from that, being an encouragement to others. My favorite line: You can go east. You can go west. Either way, you are blessed.

The Blessing of You

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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