Why do we do the things we do? If we are honest, we have asked ourselves this question before.
We all have behaviors that we know are unhealthy for us, hurtful to our relationships and hinder
our involvement in spreading the Kingdom of God. We aren’t going to like the answer to the
question. It’s really simple, we do the things we do because we choose to do them. We are
volitional beings. That simply means we act according to our own will, we choose our behavior.
This is not to say that there are not outside influences that affect our choices and steer us toward
behaviors that we don’t desire. I ALWAYS desire to drive fast but the traffic laws, my history of
paying speeding fines and my lack of finances cause me to choose contrary to that desire J, but
it is still my choice.
If this is true, in order to change behavior, we must change our will. So what is the will and how
does it work? The will is our “chooser”. In simplest terms the will is like a light switch with two
positions, yes or no. Choice always boils down to those two options. But as we have already
mentioned, the will does not act independently, it is affected by outside influences. The main two
things that influence our will are our mind and our emotions. Sometimes we choose to do something because we have thought it through and believe that it is the best course of action (the will is driven by the mind) but sometimes we choose to do something just because we feel like it (the will is driven by the emotion). That sounds fairly simple doesn’t it? Hang on, it’s about to get more complicated!
The mind, will and emotion are a part of our psyche, our personality or our soul. Our soul is one part of us but we also have our spirit (the eternal part of us that connects with God) and our body (the physical, temporal part of us that connects with the world around us). In God’s ideal as expressed through the Bible, God would influence us through our Spirit which would direct our minds with His truth, direct our emotions with His peace, love and joy, which would influence our will to make choices that are lived out through our body producing actions and behaviors that glorify Him and allow us to experience life to the fullest. In fact, this is exactly what was happening in the garden of Eden AND it is exactly what Jesus came to restore (John 10:10).
However, as I am sure you are aware, we don’t often live in the ideal. Because of man’s fall into sin and the universal sinfulness and brokenness of mankind, there are other, negative influences on our mind and emotion. The circumstances and events of our past have caused us to develop a belief system (I have to prove that I am valuable, I can’t trust people, I must be successful) that interferes with the truth of God and causes me to behave in ways that are focused on self and preservation. We have developed negative emotions like fear, lust and jealousy that cause us to make choices that isolate, protect or overpower. The words people say to us, the lies Satan whispers to us, the values that the world system promotes, all of these things influence our mind and emotion and consequently have a role in the choices we make.
Even our own bodies can influence our will through the mind and emotion. Addiction happens when our behaviors have trained out body to “need” something in order to feel okay, safe or balanced. Our body tells us we need another “fix” (of alcohol, chocolate, affirmation, materialism, excitement, sex, etc.,) and the message of the addiction and the feeling of “need” influence our will to make a choice that we know is destructive.
So, having said all of this, how do we change our behavior? The simplest answer is that we have to change the way we think and feel which will in effect change the way we act. The new question then is, how do we change the way we think and feel? Let me offer a few suggestions. This is not a formula, these are not keys to better behavior, these are possible choices that we can make that will ultimately change the way we think and/or feel.
1) Invite Christ to forgive your sin and re-connect you to the life of God. If you are still disconnected from God because of sin, your spirit is dead (Ephesians 2: 1) and cannot influence your mind or emotions.
2) Examine the belief system behind your behaviors. Write down the things you are telling yourself when you choose a certain behavior. What is the motivating thought or emotion? Now compare this thought or emotion to God’s truth or God’s standard of joy, peace and love. Meditate on, memorize and regularly recite the truth and the positive emotions as a way of re-training your mind and integrating a new belief system into your soul (Romans 12:2, Proverbs 4:20-27).
3. Get some counseling to uncover and expose the events and circumstances of your past that may be the source of the negative thoughts and emotions. Choose to forgive, surrender and move beyond these defining moments in your life and create new defining moments based on truth.
4. Surround yourself with people who support and encourage your change in behavior. Your peer group is a powerful influence in your life. You may have to distance yourself from people who don’t support the changes you are making. Those who are breaking addictive patterns may need extra support and accountability since they must re-train their bodies not to need the “fix” Sometimes this requires a regular support group, in house treatment and even drugs that can counteract the body chemistry that drives the addiction. Exercise and change in diet can also be helpful in changing an addictive pattern.
Paul tells us in Philippians 4:13 that we “can” do all things through Christ who gives us strength. As far as changing our behaviors go, the word “can’t” goes out the window when Christ enters our lives. His transforming work in our minds and emotions (our soul) change the way we behave!