After reading this book a few times (like I mentioned in this post), I’m currently fascinated with all things habits (which is why I’m halfway through this book, too). Whenever I notice a cue-routine-reward cycle in my life, I feel like I uncover a secret code to success!
Many of my habit loops exist in my mind and manifest through my emotions. Whole worlds of feelings and thoughts and conversations go on in those few inches between my ears…I literally have entire discussions with people in my mind before I even say one word to them (why yes, I am an introvert, thanks for asking) To that end, there is one specific habit loop that I long to change because it wrecks my emotions and launches me into a minefield of stress: My response to my children waking up early.
Here is the loop (as it currently plays out):
Cue – one of the kids makes noises or cries, way before the time they usually wake up.
Routine – my heart rate immediately skyrockets and I feel a surge of adrenaline in my mind and body, especially through my shoulders and chest. After that wave subsides, anger and annoyance sweep through and take root, as well as a tickling of failure. I usually huff and puff through whatever I’m doing and metaphorically ‘slam the cupboard doors’ as I finish up. I’m thinking, “Well, there goes another morning, ruined and interrupted. No matter how hard I try to do things right, something always parachutes in and destroys it. Now the rest of my day is ruined.” This routine comes from the response I learned when Madison was a baby. She cried so much and we had no idea how to help her, if something was wrong, or even what was going on. About the same time, I had someone tell me that if something was ‘wrong’ with my child, it was most likely a sin issue in my own life that I had to confess and deal with. Add those two things together and what did I get? I was doing something wrong and I better figure it out fast or else my child will continue to suffer. Talk about guilt, shame, anxiety, and condemnation! Thus, whenever one of our kids cries when they are supposed to be sleeping (the one mark of success that I set for myself when Madison was a baby…I thought if she was sleeping – and not crying – I must be doing something right) the memories of that declaration stir up inside me and help trigger this loop. I know the truth is that my kids are loved because I love them. They are not perfect because I am perfect.
Reward – I punish myself with emotional baggage of failure and shame. I also feel justified in punishing the people around me. Often I cut them down emotionally or throw up a wall or two to keep them away from hurting me more. If I’m suffering, then everyone else should suffer too, right?
I was reading in Philippians this morning and came across a well known, often quoted verse and realized it was a habit loop, laid out in all it’s glory in the midst of Paul’s letter!
Don’t worry about anything; instead pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank Him for all He has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.
I can use this habit loop to help replace the routine of anxiety, shame, and failure when the ‘kids crying!’ cue triggers. Here is the new habit loop (with the help from the verse in Philippians):
Cue – worry (i.e. – kids crying)
Routine – pray. First, tell God what I need. “Lord, I need your peace right now. My emotions are spiraling and I need you to calm my heart and mind.” Then, thank Him for what He’s done. “Thank you God for taking the punishment of my sin on the cross. Thank you that my children are healthy and safe and that they are loved because I love them.”
Reward – peace. It’s a promise that I can hold on to – God will give me His peace when I practice this habit loop!