Breaking habits before they break you

From The Why Files, my award-winning book for teens.

My “Old Testament Survey” professor, Wilbur Williams, reminded us, “You can’t ‘break’ the Ten Commandments. They will break you if you disobey them.” Good point!

However, I learned the secret to breaking habits in high school journalism class. Mrs. Leiter demanded that every hard news story contain five w‘s and an h.


Is there a particular person or group that you usually do this with?

Jeremy used to limp into my office at once a week. “I’m so discouraged. I gave in and smoked dope again. I went over to Tim’s to see my old friends, and before I knew it, I had a joint in my hand.”

Jeremy was sincerely interested in helping his friends. But he wasn’t strong enough to continue his old relationships without them influencing him.

If every time you’re a particular person, you start cutting down people, smoking, drinking, going to far sexually, or (you fill in the habit), you need to limit your time with him or her.

Breaking up with old friends is difficult, but your physical or spiritual survival may depend on it.


Have you noticed that certain locations create different mood—school creates boredom (at least it did for me), or sitting at your desk puts you in a study mood? (That’s why you should always do your homework in a special place. After a few weeks, your mind will automatically shift into “study” mode whenever you’re at that spot. Studying in bed rarely works because you spend most of your time there sleeeeeeeeping.)

The same principle works for habits.

Ray used to sneak down to the basement for a bottle of wine hidden behind the furnace.

“It was really weird, Jim. I thought I had beaten my urge to drink. But today, when I was helping my dad change furnace filters, that temptation came back really bad!”

So, if at all possible, stay clear of those locations that tempt you or where you used to engage in that habit. If you find yourself going too far at your guy’s house when no one else is home, then simply stay away from that tempting location.

If it’s a place you absolutely can’t avoid such as the bathroom, at least be on your guard. Temptation is going to be particularly strong there! But each time you don’t give in there, you will start to break that association with the habit and that location.


Have you noticed that temptations seem greater at certain times? Maybe it’s the time of day or when you’re tired, worried, depressed, or not feeling well. (I get tempted to eat my body weight in dark chocolate when I’m depressed or bored.)

Obviously you can’t change monthly cycles, the time of day, your health, or the phases of the moon. But you be be aware of when temptation seems to be strongest—and be prepared for it. If you know that at ten o’clock every night you’re be tempted to clean out the fridge in a feeding frenzy, try calling a friend or being with your parents during that time.

Temptation is ruthless and will attack when we’re at our lowest point physically, emotionally, or spiritually.


God wants to help us meet that need. Habits only give us temporary relaxation, security, or release from frustration. But a relationship with God can provide a permanent solution.

He’ll probably help us through people in our church or youth group. First Corinthians 10:13 says we are not alone in our temptations. In fact, your youth leader probably struggled with the same habits, drives or feelings. Talk to him or her. Look to Christian friends for support and prayer.


Real success begins with the question why. Try to discover what need you’re trying to satisfy by indulging in the habit. Be honest.

Sheila confessed that she was hooked on sex. She didn’t care who the guy was or if she really liked him. Most of her time had been spent hanging out at coffee shops waiting for someone to pick her up for a “one-nighter.”

As we talked, she poured our her unhappy childhood. “I never remember my parents ever hugging me or telling me that loved me. I craved for someone—anyone—to hold me and tell me they loved me. It didn’t matter if they meant it or not. I just wanted to hear it.”

Sheila began to feel accepted by the youth group and sensed unconditional love from the teens and the sponsors. The void was now being filled in a positive, safe way.

You can break habits before they break you!

Copyright © 1987 James N. Watkins. Adapted from The Why Files: When Can I Start Dating? (Concordia Publishing House, 2000)

Photo: Spencer Davis

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