Habits: How Batman is Killing Our Souls
“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by
changing the way you think”
Marvel has dominated the world of superhero fiction through a decade of films and original Netflix series. Now, I cannot call myself a full-on nerd for superheroes. I’m not buying collectible action figures or running a podcast like my friend, Lance Stanford with The Night Nerd. However, my childhood love for the superpowered has been completely restored, thanks to Marvel.
DC, on the other hand…they may kill my excitement if they make another movie. Excluding Wonder Woman (which was very well done), the only decent movie I’ve seen from DC comics is the Batman Dark Knight trilogy starring Christian Bale.
There is an incredibly epic moment that gets anyone with a pulse pumping with adrenaline and inspiration. It’s when Batman looks at Rachel Dawes, who still doesn’t know the esteemed Dark Knight is actually her irresponsible, playboy best friend, Bruce Wayne, and he repeats her own words back to her, revealing his true identity. Just before leaping off to save the day, he says,
“It’s not who you are underneath, it’s what you do that defines you.”
It is one of my favorite moments in a movie, and a line that has been used in leadership circles all around our country. It is something our country, our culture, and our individual spirits take very seriously.
And it could not be more wrong.
There is truth to the statement. What you do IS a reflection of who you are underneath. This is why extroverts are more naturally drawn to occupations and activities that involve interactions with people. It’s why stereotypes exist, because
our outward actions are an expression of our inner selves.
But believing that our actions DEFINE who we are is absurd! If I live on a diet of pure gasoline, go around making various engine noises, and sleep in a garage, people wouldn’t say “He must be a car!”
No, they would call me insane.
I know this is a gross exaggeration of the point, but it helps to reveal the truth. A dog can meow like a cat, but it’s still a dog.
I can work as a mechanic, and be much more than that.
I do have the ability to do things and act in ways that are contrary to who I truly am.
I have a history of self-condemnation. Since I was 13 I knew I was destined for great things. God met me at an important time in my life and told me that together we would reach people with His love. He said we would do wonderful and beautiful things together. He told me I was a great kid who would become a great man.
Since that moment, every time I did something that is NOT great I beat myself up. Every time I looked at an attractive girl too long, or lied to someone I loved, or simply failed to do what God asked of me, it tore me up inside. I wanted so badly to be the man God had said I was, that every time I didn’t measure up, I was convinced I was ruining His plan for me.
I believed the lie that what I did was more important than who I was; more indicative of my identity than God’s promise.
The truth is, the majority of our actions say more about our surroundings and upbringing than they do about our inner identity. Our habits are more about what we have seen modeled for us, and how we were shown to respond.
I won’t bore you with the science of it all, but when we see, hear, or experience something multiple times, our brains literally create pathways to that make that thought or experience easier the next time it happens again.
It’s like driving to work every day. You have done it so much that your subconscious mind has created pathways to help you do it without exerting metal energy. Once you’ve done it enough times, you eventually find yourself arriving at work without ever thinking about which turn to take when.
Unfortunately, it works for harmful behaviors too.
When you were a child, if your parents called you worthless every time you dropped something, then your brain created a neurological pathway that connected dropping things to worthlessness. Your brain was trained to believe you are worthless everytime you drop something.
In short, our brains have learned shortcuts. These shortcuts take less energy and seemingly make life “easier.”
We call these shortcuts habits.
We all have them. We all do things that are just our subconscious taking over and reacting the only way it knows how. We all do things that are more about learned behavior and less about who we truly are.
I mess things up a lot. I drop things, I show up late to meetings, and anyone who knows me knows that I forget just about everything unless I write it down. Even when I do write it down, I find myself so discombobulated in my mind that I still forget a lot of really important things. My whole life when I would do something wrong I would instinctively react by saying,
Then one day I said this while sitting with my mentor, who’s a licensed counselor. He stopped immediately and derailed our original conversation. He looked at me and said,
“Making a mistake doesn’t make you an idiot, it makes you human. And humans are the most beloved thing to God.”
Calling myself an idiot was a habit I learned. It was the same as occasionally forgetting things. It’s the same as turning to a vice when you’re sad, hurting, or lonely. It’s the same as anything we do over and over again. It’s all just habits.
To judge ourselves based on our actions, to believe that what we do defines who we are, is like judging a fish by its ability to climb a tree. Fish were not made to climb trees, so every time it tries to climb a tree it sets itself up for failure.
Those are just habits, and habits can always be unlearned or changed.
If we are going to discover a more honest faith, closer spiritual community, and deeper sense of purpose in our lives, we are going to have to gain a healthier attitude toward ourselves. If we want to be more like Jesus then we are going to have to have a LOT more grace for ourselves, like Jesus does.
In my last post, Hurts: Why It’s Really Not Your Fault we talked about how our painful experiences radically affect how we see and respond to the world. In order to have a healthier attitude toward yourself, I believe that is the best place to start. Once we have begun to recognize why we do the things we do, we can then do the work to retrain those neurological pathways that create our habits.
The coolest thing about the brain is that it is always changing. The science-y word for it is neuroplasticity which just means that the brain is constantly in flux, rearranging pathways, strengthening and weakening certain synapses, and so much more for your ENTIRE LIFE!
So once we have identified some of the things that have caused certain behaviors in our life, with the knowledge that God loves us NO MATTER WHAT WE’RE LIKE, we can ACTUALLY RETRAIN our brains to change our habits.
Where to Start:
1. Ask a close friend or loved one that spends a lot of time with you to point out one or two self-destructive habits.
Make sure they only say one or two. If we try to change everything all at once it’s information overload time and we’re running for the exits because THE WHOLE THING’S GONNA BLOW!
Also, make sure they point out habits that are harmful TO YOU! This is not a time for them to change YOU for THEIR benefit. You can only treat others better when you have allowed God and yourself to love you more fully.
2. Once you have identified something you want to change in the way you treat yourself, create an aversion tactic.
A popular method is to wear a rubber band and pop yourself every time you do the thing you want to change. This is a physical way to kickstart your brain to think differently by associating a harmless amount of pain with the thought or action, and your brain will learn to stay away from it (please remember…a small, HARMLESS amount of pain just for aversion. Please DO NOT replace pschological pain with physical pain).
For a more stylish and technological approach to aversion tactics, check out Pavlock products to essentially program your neurological recovery!!!
3. My favorite method is to redirect a negative thought, word, or action to a positive one.
I used to call myself a “freaking idiot” anytime I did the smallest thing like drop my phone or forget something on my To-Do list. Now when I hear those words I force myself to stop and reword the thought.
If I drop my phone I’ll say, “No, I’m not an idiot. I just dropped my phone by accident.”
If I forget to do something, I retrain my brain by saying, “I’m not an idiot. I just have so much going on that I simply overlooked this one thing.”
These are three simple ways that make a huge difference in how you see yourself, as well as how you perceive the world around you. When we practice grace toward ourselves it comes much more naturally to practice grace and peace toward others. But, these things take time. I have had almost 30 years of practice calling myself an idiot. To unlearn that behavior is going to take a lot of work, intentionality, and above all, repetition.
In all your mistakes and unhealthy habits, remember this: