Understanding the power of habit

The word “habit” is the inclination and ability to automatically and easily respond to a situation in a routine way; it is both mastery and self-control, skill and will. A man forms a habit by repeatedly responding in the same way to some situation; opinions vary, but consistently repeating a thought or behavior daily for about 90 days is associated with establishing a habit.  A habit can be either a good habit (Virtue) which leads to happiness or a bad habit (Vice) which ultimately leads to unhappiness. 

The words “habit” and “habitat” (a home) share a common root (Latin, habere) which means to “possess, hold or wear.” A habit is something which a man possesses and comfortably wears so that the habit makes a home in him; Catholic religious are identified by the clothing that they wear which are called their “habit.” 

To become a saint, every Catholic man should strive to grow in Catholic habits to the degree that others can recognize that the goodness of Christ and His Holy Catholic Church have made a home in his soul.

The Daily Gospel Bible Studies are carefully crafted as a system that includes many holy habits into the Daily Devotions and so by simply building the “master habit” of praying the Devotional every day you can make sure progress in growing in holiness and more and more able to accept the happiness Jesus promises. 

Learning the 5 Keys to Building Holy Habits

Your habits are built based on a 5-step habit-building process: 1) you have internal Desires, 2) something Stimulates your Desire, 3) you choose to Respond to the Stimulation, 4) you receive a Consequence for your Response, and 5) through Repetition of the Stimulus-Response-Consequence habit cycle, you build a habit.  

You can increase your chances of building and sustaining a good habit by taking action on The 5 Keys to Building Holy Habits:  

1) Increase holy Desires and decrease unholy Desires

God has implanted deep in the soul of every man desires which help him survive and thrive (desire for necessities, for a wife and children, happiness, etc.) and a desire for God. As a result of the fall of man in the Garden of Eden, through Original Sin, every man also has Concupiscence (CCC 1264, 1426, 2515), which are disordered desires that lead a man to sin; Satan uses a man’s disordered desires to tempt a man into sin.

To build a holy habit (Virtue), you can cultivate a Desire for good and holy things which predispose you accept Stimuli which lead to holy Responses (holy acts) and build holy habits (Virtues). To break an unholy habit (Vice) you can cultivate a Desire which is appalled by unholy Stimuli (Temptations) so you resist making unholy Responses (Sins) and build unholy habits (Vices).

2) Increase holy Stimuli and reduce unholy Stimuli

Stimulus (from the Latin, stimulus, meaning a “pointed stick”) are thoughts or events in the world which poke you (like a “pointed stick”) and get your attention. If you have a latent or strong desire, the Stimulus is very impactful and you more strongly focus on the Stimulus.

Stimuli (plural of the word Stimulus) can come from your own internal thoughts or memories, from your physical senses, or by the words and deeds of people or events which occur in the world. In addition to the Stimuli from his own thoughts and the world, just like Jesus was tempted by Satan (Mt 4:1-11), you, like every man, are supernaturally poked by Satan with the sharp stick of temptation so he might draw you into sin.

The greater the frequency and intensity of a Stimuli, the greater is the probability you will choose to Respond to the Stimuli. To build a holy habit, you can increase the impact of good Stimuli by making it as intrusive, obvious, and disruptive as necessary to ensure your attention is unavoidably confronted with the choice to Respond. To break an unholy habit, you can take action to reduce unholy Stimuli (Temptations) so you are less tempted to choose to sin (unholy Response). 

3) Make the holy Responses easier and unholy Responses more difficult

In reaction to repeated Stimuli, a man begins to Respond (from the Latin, responsum, meaning, “answer”) with similar thoughts and acts. For example, if you are hungry and smell some delicious food (Stimulus), your mouth may water and you may choose to eat the food (Response). You make a choice using your free will to control your Response. Often, if a man has developed a bad habit, his ability to make the choice to stop making a specific Response is very difficult.

The easier a Response is to make, the more likely that you will make it. To build a holy habit, you can pre-plan your chosen holy Response to a given Stimuli and arrange your environment to make it as easy as possible to Respond in your pre-panned chosen way when the Stimuli occurs. To avoid sinning (unholy Response) you can pre-plan to make a holy Response when tempted (unholy Stimuli) and arrange your environment to make it difficult to make an unholy Response (Sin). 

4) Increase pleasant and unpleasant Consequences

Your Response is not a random thing, but is based on receiving the Consequence (Latin, consequentia, meaning “to follow after”) for your Response to a Stimuli. A Consequence is what follows the choices you make and can be either positive (pleasant/happy) or negative (unpleasant/unhappy). If you receive a pleasant Consequence for making a specific Response, you will be more likely to choose that Response now and in the future, as long as you continue to get a pleasant Consequence. If you Respond and receive an unpleasant Consequence, you will be less likely to choose to Respond to a Stimuli now and in the future. 

You can often effect the positive impact and attractiveness of a Consequence associated with a given Response by increasing the positive Consequences of Responding in the desired way and increasing the negative consequences of making unholy Responses (Sins). 

5) Increase holy Repetitions and reduce unholy Repetitions

Habits form through Repeated experiences of the Stimulus – Response – Consequence cycle because the brain and the body learn to Respond automatically to a given Stimuli to receive a pleasant Consequence and avoid a negative Consequence.

You can help motivate yourself to build Repetitions through various ways including keeping track of your “streak” of performing a habit on consecutive days without missing a day. Streaks motivate you to continue to repeat a habit because you feel the satisfaction of accomplishment and you dread the feeling of failing to keep a streak going. You can increase your motivation to keep your streak going by building positive rewards to look forward to or building in negative costs to breaking a streak.