Should My Heart Be My Guide?
There is a common adage that says “Let your heart be your guide”. I’m refraining from copying one of many memes that are out there with this phrase. I’m going to put all my cards on the table right away….In the case of establishing healthy habits that will lead to weight loss, nutrition, building muscle, and overcoming a sugar addiction, I most definitely say, “DO NOT LET YOUR HEART BE YOUR GUIDE”. Your heart is going to lead you right to that bag of chips as soon as your family is tucked away in bed for the night and you’re on the couch watching TV! Your heart is going to lead you straight back to bed as soon as your alarm goes off on the cold winter morning and you don’t feel like making that 5:45 am bootcamp. Your heart is going to convince you once again that you’re a failure because you didn’t stick to that last diet plan. You are not a failure - in this case I say, do not let your heart be your guide!
Scripture speaks about the tendency of our hearts on their own and comments, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). If your heart tells you to go steal something because you want it and can’t afford it, you say to your heart, “Umm, no, that is foolish, I am not a thief, its wrong, and I don't need that thing that bad”. If your heart says to you, “Your spouse is just not meeting your needs, go find refuge in ____ [any other person]”, you tell your heart, “Umm, no, that is evil, you are not an adulterer, you go and reconcile with your spouse”. If you heart tells you, “I deserve to have this donut, pizza, chocolate bar, wine,” you tell your heart, “Umm, no, my body is valuable and I deserve to eat healthy and treat myself with kindness”. Our minds are very powerful to overcoming natural resistance to our healthful choices. You need to use your mind to overcome tendencies of the heart that lead us astray.
It takes faith to believe that small, everyday habits will yield tangible results in the long term. Sometimes we need to take the decision making out of the “small, everyday, insignificant” habits that will lead to a goal in the long-term. Habits don't require decision-making; you just do it out of habit. Eating vegetables instead of a burger every day is neither “small” nor “insignificant” yet one meal at the time doesn’t seem like a big deal in the moment! How does anyone accomplish running a marathon? By the “small” and “insignificant” runs 4-5 times per week for months.
The small and insignificant things have the power to shape our habits most profoundly so that we don't have to use decision making to guide our hearts into what is right for us.
Waking up and wondering, "Should I work out today?" is very different from a positive statement of "I WILL work out today." If you leave your healthy choices up to a decision, the decision making involved for that daily choice exhausts you (subconsciously) and swings the door wide open to let your heart be your guide rather than a commitment. Commitment is a good thing! Don't underestimate it!
When you make a commitment to something good, you remove the decision making and you silence your heart crying out for wayward choices. Its not that I don’t care about your feelings - of course I do! However, we can’t let our heart dictate decisions in the moment of weakness. You do need to be gentle with your heart. You are not a failure, loser, or reprobate because you had a bag of chips. You made a bad decision, that is all. Remove the shame from the act of overeating, and reestablish your value given to you as a human being, created in the image of a loving God. Your commitment to healthy habits is the establishment that you are worth these choices. But, I don’t want you to have to make a choice - this is where commitment and habits come in.
You do need to consider the external influences on your behavior. We all know that there is something very powerful about external influences on good behavior. Are you the type of person that “eats healthy” when everyone else is watching but as soon as you’re alone in your house, car, or dark movie theater, you indulge? You are not going to be able to let your heart be your guide if you are trying to overcome a lifetime of eating and drinking in a way that has led to obesity. A primary external influence I want you to establish is "the encourager". You will need to listen to the people/persons/author/speaker/friend/co-worker/acquaintance etc that God has brought your way to encourage, motivate and shape you. I just want you to take a moment and think about someone who has encouraged you in the recent past toward a healthy habit. Think about that person and continue a relationship with him/her to spur you on toward positive choices. Contact them today - don’t wait.
Recently I got a note from a current Luminaries Retreat guest and she said, “Last night as I was reflecting on the past week, I was overcome with so much gratitude. God impressed upon me how much I need other people-- I can't walk this journey alone and I tend to be quite independent, so this is powerful to me. I also realized the truth of Hebrews 10:24-25. It is God's plan that we meet together to "spur" on one another to love and good deeds. That's why I can't do this journey on my own-- I am proof positive that when I fail, I struggle to encourage myself. I need others for that reason. And that's also why God has created the church- I can't do my walk of faith on my own either. Oh that we would realize the purpose of truly being the body of Christ means we share our raw failures and allow others to rally around us. Satan has so deceived the church to believe that we have to "protect" our image of being perfect and have it all together. No wonder we are so discouraged and why so many have issues with the church.” Please please use your support network to encourage your healthy habits not just for today but for a lifetime.
What healthy habits am I talking about? Perhaps it is giving up soda; perhaps it is quitting smoking; perhaps it is signing up for a race; perhaps it is getting a gym membership; perhaps it is joining a health and wellness retreat; perhaps it is trying a sugar detox commitment; perhaps it is tracking what you eat on MyFitnessPal; perhaps it is a friend who wants to walk with you regularly; perhaps it is avoiding a restaurant where you know you’ll overindulge; perhaps it is finally letting go of the notion that you can be perfect; perhaps it is accepting yourself as who you are right now as valuable in the sight of a loving God who has created you to be in fellowship with Him and forgiven of all your sins. Whatever encouragement you’ve received, it takes faith to believe that overcoming your natural reluctance and inertia will lead to improvement, joy, peace, health, freedom, and well-being. Take the encouragement that that person gave you and decide to change that one thing.
What is your "one thing" that you can change today?
You don’t have to change everything about your life immediately to see fruit. You just need to be dedicated to a few things leading toward health over a long time to see change. I’m going to share a personal example. I dabbled in soda over the years even while embarking on a radical quest to lose 60 pounds. I just couldn’t seem to give it up. If someone had come to me and said, “Amy, in order to lose those 60 pounds you just can’t have soda ever again” - I would’ve been like, “oh forget this whole thing, its totally not worth it”. I just wasn’t willing to give it up. It felt too restrictive. Too hard. So, I was hitting the gym or running every day, adding more vegetables to my every day diet, practicing calorie restriction, doing a modified sugar detox, challenging myself to new athletic things regularly, drinking a green drink every morning, listening closely to those who had achieved weight loss and sustained it (yes, fitness instructor and personal trainer Mike Colaizy was right - there is more benefit to a high-intensity workout for 45 minutes than 2 hours of slow-paced cardio!) Yes, and it’ll make you sweat till you bleed, thank you C & C Music Factory. But, I just couldn’t say “no” to ever having a soda again. Guess what? I still lost about 50 pounds and THEN I decided it was time to say goodbye to soda forever, PS, I dragged my husband Jamey along with me on this commitment to a no-soda life by nature of simply not buying it at the store and since I do the grocery shopping it was actually somewhat simple. Okay, fine, I also guilted him a little bit by reminding him that he’s a doctor and he tells people every day to give up soda so he should too in order to not be a hypocrite. Thankfully he’s a really nice person and received my cajoling over a year’s time period.
First, giving up soda resolutely just took a commitment and then eventually the desire totally vanished. My heart said, “you need this to be normal and happy” but I didn’t let my heart be my guide. It did take some external influence to shape this into a habit. It is amazing to look back and remember how I *had* to have soda every day to function and now there is literally nothing in me that wants one. Now I’m not going to try and deceive you, I still have many regular temptations in the sweet baked goods realm (fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies) and the chips realm (salt and vinegar kettle chips), which I presently fight against, but at least soda, juice, alcohol, mac-n-cheese, fries, pizza, and croutons are not temptations any more. I can live happily without those things. Now, your “list” will be different than mine, but you need to decide what your absolute “must-change” things are in order to see long-term effects.
In our Monday night support group at the Luminaries building, it has been enlightening and eye-opening how many of us struggle with just a few “trigger foods” that once consumed open the gate toward binge-eating all manner of junk. If you’re reading this and saw the words “trigger foods” you may have had something come to mind. I would suggest enlisting the help of an accountability partner(s) to talk about this and share openly with. Those trigger foods may need to be on your “blacklist”. For me, chips and fresh baked cookies are on the blacklist. I may choose to have a few cookies here and there BUT I cannot make them in my home anymore. I just can’t. I just can’t stop eating them. I can pass up all manner of other sweets and junk food, why not cookies? Who knows, but for me, whenever I see a bag of chocolate chips in the grocery store aisle and my mind envisions the wonderful things I will be able to do with them (ganache, cookies, brownies) I just tell myself, “Its not worth it”. And quickly get out of that aisle! For me, it is a trigger food. The feeling I get from being able to button the clothes that are in my drawer is definitely worth giving up the aroma of fresh baked cookies. It takes faith to believe that this “sacrifice” is worth it. You have to let your mind go down the path of “what will I feel like tomorrow if I do this now”? Am I going to be proud of myself or I am going to self-loathe? Consider tomorrow today.
Your “external influence” may be a person, a commitment, a reward, an event, etc and it is absolutely essential to creating these new healthy habits. Its amazing how effective a finish line can be to propel someone. Last weekend an acquaintance of mine, won his first marathon - a local race with fast participants. The year before he had finished third so definitely was a top contender. However, he has only been running for about 4 years so I’ve been in awe that he has gotten so speedy so quick. I asked him how he won the marathon and he mentioned something that has stuck with me all week. Summarizing the sentiment: “I pushed myself past the point of pain in training”.
I have been pretty convicted by this runner’s statement because it goes against my comfort-life mentality. I usually stop before things get too hard or too difficult. I just give in and convince myself I’m doing pretty good compared to what I was before, the person not doing anything, or the person I will probably be when I’m 80, etc. But, I am going to take this friend's words and let them challenge me to keep improving, keep dreaming, and keeping faith that the best version of myself is still being molded.
If I have a goal to run 5 miles on a Saturday morning, eating an entire bag of Boom Chicka Pop popcorn on Friday night while watching a movie with my family is NOT going to help me have a good run. Consider the ramifications those actions have tomorrow, today. Do not let your heart be your guide [sometimes]. Keep the faith. It is worth it - your changes, done consistently and with vigor will pay off in the long run. Keep seeking, keep fighting, and keep the eye of tiger. Decide what foods are your trigger foods and put those on the blacklist. Decide who you want to enlist for accountability and have an open, honest conversation with them and set up an external influence to help you succeed. Do something today that your future self will thank you for.
Amy Sotis is on her own health and wellness journey and lives this out helping guests achieve their goals at Luminaries Retreat in St Croix Falls, WI