Have you ever tried to quit a bad habit but went right back after the first relapse? Let’s say you’re quitting caffeine, then a bleary day hits and you have that one cup of coffee, only to go right back to the old habit. It’s almost as though that first slip up lets go the flood.
I used to be all or nothing about stuff like this but I recently had a conversation with Bill Lokey who helped me understand relapses are part of the process of changing a behavior.
As some of you know, Bill contributes to this blog and knows a great deal about how and why people change.
Just the other day, Bill and I were talking about habits, how they form and how we can change them and he mentioned something I thought was interesting. He said when he works with somebody to help them change a habit, relapse is part of the program.
You heard me correctly. Relapse is part of the program.
He said when somebody tries to quit smoking, they normally relapse three to four times before they finally quit.
He also mentioned that it was important for people to have some grace toward themselves about behavior change. The idea is to keep moving forward, but when we slip-up, simply plant our feet and keep moving, slowly, but further than the place where we slipped-up before.
I found this helpful, not only with changing habits, but in life in general. If you grew up in a religious community, you’re likely to have encountered an all-or-nothing mentality. When there are lots of rules, there is usually lots of judgment and lots of shame and lots of hiding our mistakes. This is terribly unhealthy for creating, well, health. God offers grace, but when a community is trying to control people, grace isn’t a well understood or exchanged concept.
Here’s the big idea: A lack of grace toward ourselves actually hurts us if we are trying to make progress in any area of our lives. The key seems to be to intentionally move forward with full effort, but quickly shake off and forgive slip-ups.
What would it look like to allow yourself to be perfectly human? What would change in your life if you let go of an all-or-nothing mentality and you stopped shaming yourself for the occasional slip up, while you still attempted to move forward in life and in character?
Anything you need to have a little more grace toward in your life?