Over the last few years, neuroscience has confirmed that our daily habits shape our lives more than we could have ever imagined. Our brains actually depend on habit loops—series of cues, routines and rewards—to function in our extremely complicated world. Imagine if you had to think through every tiny step in the process of brushing your teeth or tying your shoes: your brain would become overloaded trying to cope. Yet you can do those things without even thinking because your brain has automated those tasks: they have become habits.
The problem is that our brains can automate destructive habits as easily as they automate good ones. That’s why many people watch television, eat junk food and fail to exercise without making a conscious decision to do so. Much of what you do today is the result of habits you formed long ago. Over time, those habits have shaped your character. In that sense, we are all self-made men or women.
It is always tempting to believe that our problems are someone else’s fault. But the fact is, most of our problems have their roots right where we live, in our own hearts and minds and in our own behavior. Factors beyond our control can play havoc with our plans. Yet if we are really honest about it, the best solutions come from taking a look at what is going on inside. This is actually good news, because habits—as powerful as they are—can be changed.
One of the reasons that regular church attendance (as I have written before) has such a powerfully positive effect on at-risk youth is that it presents them with an opportunity to develop more productive habits. Almost everyone supports higher education standards for these children. But while more testing may be an important part of such reforms, testing alone will never inculcate students with better study habits. We all want to improve the health of the general population, but early screenings, while important for treatment, won’t give patients better eating habits and exercise regimens. That is why communities of faith can and must play a vital role in addressing the variety of social problems we face today.
Stricter laws and greater surveillance are a mixed bag: they may afford us greater security, but they may also tempt our lawmakers to abuse their authority. Either way, such measures will never remake the human heart. That can only be done by God Himself, and it is best lived out in a community that seeks to please Him. Let’s let our words and deeds live up to God’s standard.
Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.