- posted by Len Thompson
We often make resolutions at the beginning of a new year. Some of us have given up on new year's resolutions as well as reading the Bible. Recent Canadian surveys show that even among Christians in Canada, we don't read Scripture very often. Maybe we are going about this in the wrong way - through using will power and then beating ourselves up with guilt.
Neuroscience has learned that habits develop through a cue - behaviour - reward loop. This might be really worth thinking about because it is a polar opposite to the guilt trap that many of us have learned as we think of daily devotions! Hear me out before you dismiss this as simple behavioural theory or even worse, as bribery.
One problem most of us have in developing a habit is that we don't remember ever day to engage in our new habit. We need a cue to remind us. Often in thinking about a cue, we also spend time budgeting our time so that our new habit can fit into our routine. Time budgeting can be as painful as fiscal budgeting! A cue can be a time of day, a place, a social reinforcement (having a partner), a visual or auditory reminder or following a routine event. It can also be a combination of all fie of these cues. For instance you could decide to read Scripture with your spouse every day after the alarm goes off, in a room that you have dedicated in your house for prayer. If all of those cues were in place it would be hard to forget.
The actual behaviour that follows the routine may need some attention. Some folks have not learned how to read Scripture in a way that connects them with God. You may want to read the blog "Meeting Jesus Every Day in 2015" for some ideas that could help you in this practice. Or you may have a method that you already like so go ahead and use that method. In the end you need to understand how to do the behaviour in a way that works well for you.
The behaviour then should be followed by a reward. If I read Scripture and love the experience it is far more likely that I will repeat the behaviour tomorrow! If I miss a day and feel really guilty, I am not that motivated to read Scripture the next day; I might want to give up instead. Studies show that even rewards such as chocolate, a feeling of accomplishment, a gold sticker, or even saying something nice to yourself will help you get over the initial resistance you will naturally feel in breaking up old habits to develop new ones. It won't take very long before the intrinsic reward (fellowship with Jesus) will replace the initial reward you have set up to get you going. Rewards can be coffee, tea, a nap, 5 minutes reading your favourite book or whatever you like.
Would you try this with me until March 1st? I have my strategy thought out. I will do this every weekday morning at 7:30 in a small chapel available to me and I will reward myself with a chocolate (I have over 60 left over from Christmas) along with a good cup of coffee. Your routine will need to fit who you are but you get the idea. Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment with a name (we get an unbelievable amount of spam) on the blog page and let's compare notes on March 1st. By then, it will likely be a habit. And what a wonderful habit to have - to see the face of Jesus every day.