Changing Habits or Changing Channels?
If I were forced at gunpoint to choose a metaphor that encapsulated the ethos of our society, our deep-seated assumptions about reality, I think I could give it to you in a single word.
That sound represents the arbitrary freedom of instantaneous choice and change we experience as we hover, hummingbird-like, between one thing and another on the internet; as we surf channel after TV channel while running picture-in-picture; as we input the next destination on our GPS, or change our minds about the previous one; as we move almost seamlessly between the multifarious functions of what we once called our ‘phones’; and it is also the sound of the unquestioned taskmaster of modern society, the clock, which reminds us continually how much closer we are to the end of the workday, the lunch hour, our free time, our weekend, our lives.
The fact the we spend so much time clicking (or listening to it) has unfortunate implications for how we view the world and for what we expect of ourselves. The problems are legion. I will only look at one this morning, hoping to engage you deeply enough to avoid another premature ‘click’.
Expectations of Change in a Clickable World
‘It’s lickable wallpaper! Lick a strawberry, it tastes like a strawberry… the snozberries taste like snozberries!’
‘Whoever heard of a snozberry?’
In that well-known scene from the oh-so-psychedelic production of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, the children and their parents are ushered into a room where the wallpaper, covered in a fruit-image pattern, tastes like the fruit represented on it. All they had to do was move their tongues a bit to change the flavor, from the recognized to the absurd and outlandish. In a lickable world, like that room and like so much of the chocolate factory in the story, the choices are all yours; they are all simple; just ‘lick’ somewhere else to change your experience, stay where you’ve found what you like for as long as you like, and there’s always something new and unexpected just around the corner but easily within reach.
I hope you can see the parallels between Dahl’s ‘lickable’ world and our ‘clickable’ one.
We are all so accustomed to changing our whole environment and experience through the immediate pleasure of clicks (because someone else is making an obscene amount of money preparing these ‘environments’ and ‘experiences’ for our consumption) that we have a tendency to forget how life in the body actually works.
One of the areas where we continually encounter this disconnect is in the attempt to alter our way of life, or change our habits. Despite the realization that ought to hit us head-on in just hours or days – that habits do not change like channels – we proceed, over and over again, on the assumption that they will, eventually, if we just learn to ‘click’ in the right place. Not only this – there are thousands of companies with marketing arms waiting to embrace us and take advantage of this omnipresent societal fallacy. How many diet programs promise ‘results’ (whatever that may mean – The snozberries will taste like snozberries! We promise!) in a matter of days or weeks? And how many units do they sell on the basis of those promises? I have a feeling we would be embarrassed to know that number.
Remembering How to Grow
Real, down-to-earth, embodied change in our lives is certainly possible. It’s just not usually possible on our terms or our timeline.
Many of the ideas and practices I write about on this blog require substantial life changes, habit changes, and similar readjustments in our living in order for us to implement them. Patterns of behavior, of consumption, of thought, and of time-spending (or -wasting) must be altered. But – and I know this sounds ridiculous to say this, or put it in print, because it ought to be obvious – these changes cannot be ‘clicked’ into place. And if you have grown up in a society like ours, that is likely to frustrate you. But don’t give up.
How can we begin to realize genuine growth in an enticingly clickable world?
- Gain wisdom from how other things in the natural world grow and change. Plants and trees, animals, and even human bodies grow slowly and almost imperceptibly, usually taking months or years to register substantial changes. That’s how the world is.
- Recognize that one attempt – one hour’s or one day’s or one week’s worth of change – is analogous to one click, and is not nearly enough. If you feel like you ‘tried’ some kind of change and it didn’t work, examine the actual investment you had in ‘trying’. Are you attempting to change like lickable wallpaper or to grow like a tree?
- If you have been trying to ‘click’ your life into gear, admit it. It’s OK. We’re all doing this kind of stupid thing because it almost seems natural in our environment. Just confess, admit that it doesn’t work and won’t ever work, and move on.
- Start with one thing that needs to be changed and focus on it. The media we are often viewing give us the illusion that hundreds of things can be done at once; movies and sitcoms compress time drastically, so that a story of a character who takes years to change is played out in an hour and a half in front of our eyes. You and I can probably only work on one significant change at a time.
- Bring in family, close friends or neighbors to help you in any way they can. You cannot do this alone. You are better off admitting that right from the start and enlisting help from those who love you. Having accountability – someone who will hold you accountable, or responsible, for your actions and lovingly check in with you on a regular basis to ask tough questions about the changes you are working on – is essential to your success in the endeavor.
- Mentally and emotionally embrace the idea that this change will take a long time to really sink in, and get comfortable with it. Don’t even plan to start on another change while you are at work on this one.
Some changes are far more difficult than others, of course – I’m not trying to paper over that distinction – and you may need more help than you can seem to muster. Kicking long-term addictions, for example, for many of us requires a support community over the long term, and not just a friend or a few weeks’ effort. But ‘clicking’, metaphorically, will be no help at all.
I am a Christian, and I approach the world from that standpoint. With that in mind, I would say in closing that if you are facing a serious problem that requires drastic changes of habit in your life, I do not think (based on experience) that you are likely to succeed, long-term, without the power of the Holy Spirit acting in and upon you as you trust in Jesus Christ and His power and authority over all. If it’s true that the world around us was made by a personal God, and that He designed us as well – mind, heart and will – then He ought to know best both how we can change and what sort of change we really need. A gospel-driven (not money- or acceptance-driven) church also provides one of the best possible communities in which you can be honest, find accountability, and receive help from real people over the long haul. (If you need help finding a church like that to visit, comment and I’ll try to point you in the right direction.)
That’s incredibly important because, in all likelihood, the changes you would like to see in your embodied life will require the ‘long haul’, and will refuse to be ‘clicked’ into place. Don’t waste time trying. Commit to practice a single change over the long term from day to day, plant-like, with the help of a close community, until (after three weeks or three years) it becomes so habitual that you rarely have to think about it. Then move on to the next one.
You will be more human, and you will be more happy.
How have you faced the need for habit change? Have you succeeded? How? Let us know in the comments so that we can benefit from your experience.