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The Power of Habit

Eric Walsh


Habit is one of the most powerful forces known to man. How you develop or disassemble habits is critical for your spiritual life.


Eric Walsh

Pastor and Physician


  • September 3, 2017
    9:00 AM
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This message was presented at the AMEN Missions 2017 Bible Conference: “Shaken but not forsaken” in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. For more resources like this, visit us at www.amen.missions.fields.za. AMEN – Advent Message to Every Nation.



So, we’re gonna talk about habit now and how are we change habit, why habits were set up, why God has designed us to even have the ability to create habits. All of these are very important. So, there are good habits obviously and bad habits. You want to form good habits, obviously. Ephesians 4: 22 – 24  says “That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.”


Ellen White says, “It is by a repetition of acts that habits are established and character confirmed.” Habits make character and character is the only thing you get to take with you to heaven.


So every year in the United States and probably in South Africa, you make New Year's resolutions, right? (Yes). It's one of the most ironic things ever created was the New Year's resolution. I won’t get into it, except only eight percent of people who make New Year's resolutions stick to them and those who don't usually abandon them after just one week. So the first week of the year, I like going to the gym and when I go to the gym, I know the first week of the year, I can’t find a parking space, I can’t get on a machine. One week later, it's back to normal.


People don't hold to their decisions very long. So where do habits live in your brain? Well, it lives in the basal ganglia. It’s where emotions, pattern recognition and memories are. So you find the basal ganglia down in here. The pre frontal cortex is this part of your brain here. This is the frontal lobe of your brain. The human brain is 33 percent frontal lobe. The next one, what’s the next minus animal after a human? One of them lives here in Africa. The chimpanzee is 13 percent frontal lobe. And the other one is a porpoise in the ocean and a porpoise is also 13 percent frontal lobe.


A third of the human brain is frontal lobe. That says a lot about humans and our ability for intellect and to worship God. That's what the frontal really allows us to do. So it goes to sleep when habits are formed. So what happens is you form a habit; at first when you're doing it, you're thinking about it in your frontal lobe. After a while, it becomes automatic and your frontal lobe turns off and a cigarette is automatically comes out of the box and into the mouth. You understand what I'm saying? Automatically, the T.V. is turned on when you walk in the house. You don’t even have to think about it. You just do it without really thinking “Do I really,” “Is there even anything for me to watch on television?” It seems so many of you are laughing because you know what I'm saying.


How do you form habits? Well, first of all, habits make things easier. So I took typing in junior high school to properly type, which I don't really properly. But to properly type is a habit that you develop by practicing on a keyboard, right? So God designed it so that you could do things easier and easier without having to think about them like play the piano, like run a machine, like drive a car because you get, it becomes habitual and your brain can then use that energy to do something else like while you're typing, you can actually think about what it is you wanna write, because you don't think about typing anymore.


See God designed us. That's what the Bible says “we are fearfully and wonderfully made.” Never forget that you're fearfully and wonderfully made. Every action is received and passed in one of the nerve cells. The dendrites that receive the message acts and sends the message to the next cell. Between the cells are synapse or space and in this space, the neurotransmitter called the acetylcholine jump across to send messages. So, if this is one nerve ending, that's another one, acetylcholine piles up hear and when it's ready, it jumps across the nerve ending, sends a signal down and that's how the information is passed around in your brain. So now there are things in the French. In the French, it's called boutons; in English, it's actually buttons. These are small of a vesicle. And so this is the end where acetylcholine is, all these sacs of acetylcholine begin to develop when you develop a habit. So as you're learning to play the piano and you place your finger right, your body puts a little extra bit of, of acetylcholine in a button right here, then another one here, another one here. So, eventually, there's so much acetylcholine here that if you fire a nerve that allows you to use your fingers to play the piano, there's an overwhelming amount of acetylcholine, you don't have to think about it. It just happens.


So watch this, when I habit is formed, the neuroanatomy of your brain is permanently changed. Don’t miss this thing. When you form a bad habit, you form something that you cannot actually fully ever efface. You can't really ever get rid of it. Will talk about what you do then. If an act is repeated, more buttons are made. Repetition deepens the groove, making the action or thought easier to repeat. So we can show you a diagram of this. Here's the axon, the buttons come down here, makes it easy to go in an actual electron microscope of it and so you see all of the dendrites. The buttons shows up here. So, there's extra acetylcholine shoot, so you can fire that memory that makes things happen easier. Acetylcholine is the neural chemical of memory. So that's how habits are formed. They’re formed by your brain actually changing its structure to make certain things easier to do or come back to it.


Addiction is different. Addiction has four stages. So when someone is addicted to nicotine, for example; first, they try a cigarette and they get a little buzz. So when I was a kid. I never tried cigarettes, I was too afraid of my mother. But if you smoke a cigarette, when some of my friends say, “Man, I get this nice little buzz, a little high from a cigarette,” right? And so they liked it. So they, guess what? You start that, you do it every now and again because you like the buzz; but eventually the buzz makes you get a mood swing, so you don't feel so good. School didn't go so good that day. Those friends would run home and do what? Smoke a cigarette, get a little buzz and feel better about themselves. After a while, they become preoccupied with the mood springs and the sit in school like mads and in a cigarette. Eventually, you get obsessed with the thing. And you may not even get the mood swing anymore. So after a while, you reset your brain, so what happens is as, as you over release them. Let me show you the diagram of dopamine in a second. As you over release the dopamine, eventually what happens is - you need your. Your natural dopamine production gets depleted; so in order for you to feel normal and not feel depressed and feel anxious, you actually need a cigarette to just feel normal. Have you ever seen somebody run to get a cigarette? Shaking and freaking out, they gotta go? I have a nurse that they were trying help her quit smoking. Let me tell you something, if she didn’t have her cigarettes, she’s mean. She had a cigarette and come back well as she does - calm and happy, back to normal.


So how does addiction pattern look in the brain? Well, just like acetylcholine. The dopamine receptors load up dopamine here to release. Dopamine is the chemical in your brain that makes/says “you've gotta have it.” It increases with sex, chewing especially after dark. If you chew after dark, your brain releases more dopamine than if you eat the same food before dark. That makes sense, right? That’s why some of us eat so late at night. Anything done that increases dopamine changes your mood, anything that changes your mood can become addictive. Dopamine runs a reward pathway in our brain.


Ellen White says it like this. She says, “What the child sees and hears is drawing deep lines upon the tender mind which no after circumstances in life can entirely efface.” Just like the science says now. The neurochemistry tells you, neuro-scientists will tell you, “Once you make that habit, you can't get rid of it.” Ellen White said that, decades before science caught up to her. And some people say, she's not a prophet. I don't know how she would've known this, if she's not.


The intellect is now taking shape and the affections receiving direction and strength. Repeated acts in a given course become habits. These may be modified by severe training in afterlife but are seldom changed. Difficult to change a habit. So you don't want to form a bad habit. So you need to parent your children out of bad habits. Amen?


Once formed, habits become more and more firmly impressed upon the character. The intellect is continually receiving its mold from opportunities and advantages, ill or well improved. Day by day, we form characters which place the students as well-disciplined soldiers under the banner of Prince Emmanuel or rebels under the banner of the Prince of Darkness. Which shall it be?


So when your child gets the habit that every time they pass a drive-through window at a fast food joint, they start screaming and hollering and you say, you know what, either a stick, a chicken nugget in their mouth that you deal with them, you’ve create a habit.


Think of. How do you want to get out of a habit? So again, we don't wanna judge. I don't want to. It's not about judging you and making you feel bad. To quit smoking is difficult. There's no point in judging a cigarette smoker and calling them a sinner, pointless. They now have an addiction. It's a disease that needs to be treated. The moral decision was when you start getting a buzz. You made a moral decision that takes of than you probably knew wasn't good for you. Once you're addicted, you're addicted. And now, we gonna try to get you out of the addiction.


Think of specific small steps you can take every day that will have the same result. If you fail at any of these small steps which you inevitably will, brush it off and realize that failure and recovery is part of any process.


So how do you get over habits? You create new ones with a deeper groove in your brain, with more acetylcholine that you will do instead of the old habit. So if you come home every day from school and the first thing you do is turn on the television and you don't do your studies, you’ve gotta change, you've gotta take enough time where you don't turn on the television and you open your book instead for your brain to eventually make that the new habit and television the old one. Here's the problem if you ever go back and just are clicking on the T.V. again, the old habit never totally disappeared. This is why we're gonna get a glorified body before we go to heaven. Because we have to have a renewed mind, the anatomy of our brain must be made over.


Now, the power of Christ will give you new habits to overtake the old ones. He can give you victory over any sin; but the brain has been tattered and damaged in this life, you're gonna get a brand new one in terms of the actual anatomy of it when you get to glory. You keep the character though.


So, you've got to make small steps to make a change. So how do you do that? Well, have a change partner. You do better with an accountability partner and of course make it spiritual. Righteousness is by what? By faith. It will take prayer and Bible study to have any real change, cause real change comes from an experience with Christ.


So what I used to tell patients when I used to work in addiction medicine at the Veterans Hospital and they were addicted to nicotine, we would get index cards. That's what you guys got a little cards, you study with in school. And I would have them write on one side of the card, and this is something you should practice if you try to break a habit or an addiction. You write on one side of the card, a Bible promise. “I can do all things to Christ who strengthens me.” You write on one side 2nd Timothy 1:7 – “For God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” And there are verses full of promises, right? “I'll never leave you nor forsake you.” There are tons of them. On the one side, you write at the bottom first, and what I would tell these veterans is, “Who do, who matters to you?” They give me a list of people and inevitably most of them would come up with a child or grandchild. And I say, “what about your granddaughter?” “What do you hope for your granddaughter?” “What do you wanna see your granddaughter do?” And most of us, “I want to be there to see her get graduate from high school or college.” “I want to see my granddaughter get married.” And I would say, so write that on the other side of the card. On one side of the card, you write “I can do all things to Christ through Christ who strengthens me;” on the other side, say “I wanna be alive to see Rebecca get married.” And here's what I tell them – before you smoke a cigarette, you've got to read both sides of the card. Before you have a piece of cake, you've gotta read both sides of the card. Before you eat a piece of chicken, you've gotta read both sides of the card, and guess what happens? It changes it from a mindless habitual activity and makes  you mindful again. So now, each cigarette means “I am distancing myself from seeing my granddaughter get married.” Each cigarette says, “each, each cigarette that I smoke says I don't believe God when He says I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  And how many cigarettes are there in a pack of cigarettes? Twenty. “Boy, you answered that quick.” I get somebody every time I do that joke. Every time I do that. But he's right; there are 20 cigarettes in a box of cigarettes. So I would have to make up 20 cards. If they smoke a pack a day, before every cigarette, they had to read one of the cards. And you know what happened? I would sometimes still give them nicotine supplement, the gums or sometimes they go Xiband, on Chantix, or something; but you'd be amazed what just the index cards would do.


We would tell them to cut straws, the length of cigarettes, puff on a straw instead of a cigarette because the nerve plexus in the back of your throat. And the habit part of it, you still do. This is the habit part. The nicotine is the addiction part. So we would do that. We would. We would also tell them that, the index cards, the profit on this, oh and having healthy snacks, right? Healthy things like grapes, like nuts, like seeds and you can munch on if you really got a bad, if you need a fix really, really bad.


And so there were different things that we would try and do. And of course it would take prayer and it would take having an accountability partner.  So I challenge you, whatever it is you’re trying to break, you can use the index card method. And it will help you to get better and help you to move off the habit; but you've gotta admit you have it first and you've got to want to change.


And the Bible says to confess your faults one to another, that what happen? That you may be healed. Having a prayer group, a study group that you share these things with will help you to heal. That's one of the most important things.


So, I’m gonna wrap up this session by giving you some just some general information, the stuff that you should look at. One of them is eat to live.  There’s a New York Times bestseller by Joe Firm and you should go to his website. He's got lots and lots of materials. That book could have been written by an Adventist. The saddest thing is that all these guys aren’t Adventists in the states that are really promoting the message we've had 400 plus years. And it's really sad. They're making a whole lot of money off of it actually. And they're changing a lot of people's lives more importantly. So that's one of things. And so in his book, he has some pictures. Let me show you some of the pictures, right? So people say, “Well, you know, I wanna switch from whole milk to two percent milk because I want less fat.” But you notice, it's actually not that much difference in the fact content between whole milk and two percent milk. Then, some other interesting stuff that he shares. More bought means fewer calories. So here's 400 calories of oil. One of reason why you want to eliminate oil from your diet. Deep frying and stuff is really bad. Frying and stuff is bad. Find another way to cook it. Don’t cook with oil. This is 400 calories of chicken. That’s 400 calories of spinach, eggplant and beans. You see the difference? See how you can eat till you're full and get fewer calories. If you eat a plant based diet and if you eat an oily diet or a meat diet. So that's one of things that he shows. So he talks about you can have unlimited amounts of raw vegetables, cooked vegetables and you know you can see the list of the different types of vegetables. He wants you to eat a lot of beans and legumes and fresh fruits at least 4 fresh fruits a day. He talks about limiting certain things if you're trying to lose weight like nuts and seeds and stuff; but he definitely says off limits dairy, animal products, between meal snacking, fruit juice, oils, sodas. Soda is a very bad for you of course. He tells you to have a ten-week plan; salad as your main dish. Eating fruits and eating a lot of variety of greens. Talks about eating legumes which is of course what Daniel and the three Hebrew boys wanted to eat, the pulse. I’m gonna get an animal and dairy products out of the diet. Again, not an Adventist but this is what he recommends. And he talks about eating mushrooms and __. Some Adventists don't like mushrooms. You don't have to eat mushrooms; but mushrooms actually do have the potential to block the development of fat and cancer cells. If they're lightly cooked, they're healthier. And so you can do the research for yourself if you want to eat mushrooms. I won’t say for against.


I’ve a lot of information on all the different foods and what's in them; but I want to talk about exercise a little bit. So physical activity can affect the physiology of the brain by increasing cerebral capillary growth, blood flow, oxygenation, the productions of neurotrophins, growth of neuro-cells in the hippocampus where you learn. So any child you want to do good in school needs to exercise. So, the secret to having a smart child is diet, plant based whole food diet, exercise so that they develop the… brain cells actually get that enough blood supply, and sleep.


Did you know you actually form your memories when you sleep? And when you sleep, your immune system actually does the bulk of its work? So if you have a child that goes to bed at one o'clock in the morning, on the phone texting and tweeting, and all this foolishness, and then you have to get up early to morning, they won't form memories. They won't remember a thing for their exams the same way. Sleep is critical to learning.


So I just add on exercise and the brain; but health transmitter levels development of nerve connections, density of neural network and brain tissue volume. These changes may be associated with improved cognition functions including attention. Exercise helps with attention. Why? You burn up a lot of extra energy. When you sit in front of a teacher, you’re less likely to go running around the room. But if all you do is sit in front of the T.V., they've got all this brain stimulation, no body stimulation, the poor teachers will have a fit.


Information processing, storage, and retrieval, enhanced coping, enhanced positive effect, reduced sensation and cravings and pain, so you raise your pain threshold when you exercise. And there's different types of exercise that they show you here. And inactive lifestyle, you have the shortest lifespan. Regular moderate exercise, you can add 1.6 six years to your life; but it remember, moving keeps you moving. So if you want to be 75, 85, 95 and still moving, you've got to keep moving. Right? So you can live to be 85 and be bedridden, but you don't want that. And high levels of physical activity can add up to 3.8 years of life. Compared to an inactive person, if you do one and a half hours of exercise per week, you have a 20 percent lower risk of premature death; three hours of exercise a week, 27 to 28 percent lower risk; and, five hours of exercise for a week, 33 to 34 percent lower risk.


So it was mentioned earlier that affluence messes with these things. I was telling this morning that in America, one of the things you notice people do is they would drive around in a parking lot for half an hour looking for a parking space in the front the building. I don't want people dinge in my car, so I park far and walk. And I know that by the park way back there, my car safe back there. So but you get a little walking. But just a little bit of walking. So I tell patients, and I have elderly geriatric patients, that have wound care, and their wounds are really bad and they need to get blood to their parts of the body where they have the wounds. And they tell me, “Oh, I can’t go, I don't wanna go outside, I won’t do this.” I said, “Take your walker, and every commercial, they we’re sitting watching game shows all day, take your walker and every time there’s a commercial, walk around the couch. Make a path. Just walk around the couch.” And you know, many patients we've cured of their wounds because we've gotten them to elevate the part of the body that has the wound and then walk.


Exercise powerful and as three times as cardiovascular resistance flexibility, all of these different things that you need to do. Resistance is really good. So you wanna lift weights, mention young men, you want to nice body. Even young ladies, you want to keep your body the rest of your life, build muscle because that baby fat is very susceptible to gravity. I won't say anything else. It’s the truth anyhow. But if you build muscle when you're young, you have muscle when you're old. So young people especially you live in an era where there’s gymnasium, there are weights, lift weights.


Now, as people get wealthier and wealthier, one of things that happen is they drive around the parking lot a lot but they don't walk anymore. So, you know, as people are poor, they do more walking, they get more wealthy, they do less walking. So you have to be intentional about getting your walking in and making sure you exercise, play basketball. Young people, play basketball, football, you know, going outside and doing these things in order to have a strong and healthy body. It’s something you need to do.


The television is your enemy because it will captivate you and you sit 2, 3 hours motionless. Think about it for a second. The human body was not designed to be so motionless. You think Jacob and Isaac and Abraham, these guys, just sitting around with their legs crossed? They had stuff to go outside and do. Nobody ate unless somebody hunted or somebody went and picked in the field or somebody went and did something. In our era, all we do is walk the refrigerator, open the door, grab something back to our couch. So you've got to make exercise a serious part of life and watch this it's never too late to start exercising.


Ellen White talks about the best exercise being walking. And I would, I would second that for most people, if you can't do anything else and you can walk, walk 15 minutes at a time. So you can get to 20 minutes, to get to 30 minutes, to get to an hour, an hour and a half.


And the other exercise is really good and you guys have some beautiful beaches I've seen, swim. Swimming is good for your joints. There's no pressure on your joints. The water, the buoyancy lifts your body up so that you can do more in the water as well as you could do like aqua aerobics at the local gym. It’s a good way to begin to reverse disease and to get healthier faster. So, those are all the things that I would recommend.


I think my time is up. So we're gonna pray and probably for some. I think I'm going to want you to sing because 8 minutes till the next time and everyone will be coming back over; but I want to I want to thank you guys who came to my sessions. This is tough stuff.


The health message stuff is very difficult stuff. I read the book. I read the book The China Study a few years ago and started to try to go vegan and when I saw that documentary that all of you need to watch, “What the health?” on Netflix and watch “Eating you alive.” There’s a black cardiologist on there and want to open with me – Adventist guy, you love in Columbus Battista and you need to watch, “Force overnight.” If you haven't watched before, watch it again. When you watch these things and you realize this is the secular world telling you this, this is not the church anymore, I hope it convicts you. That's what happened to me when I read the book The China Study. I read this book and I realized, “Man, I'm eating cheese and drinking milk and all these stuff is so bad for me.” And I was convicted and I was like well, “I gotta stop.” And I thought about it for a second and I said, “I've been here in this in church, my whole life, and two guys who probably don't believe in God write a book and all of a sudden I believe them.” I was convicted and I felt really bad that I didn't trust the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy enough to make the lifestyle changes without needing the world to tell me to do it. So I challenge you that you had a prophet that warned you and you have a Scripture that actually gives you everything you didn't know about - eating a healthy diet that we follow what God says on these issues. Amen.


Let's pray. Father God, we thank you Lord for your health message. We thank you Lord for the truth. I asked Father God in a special way that we would all make the steps to become healthier. Father God, we're not to judge or beat each other up with his health message and we're not to make this a salvific issue but Father God we do hope that we would make up our minds to live for you and surrender even our plates to you, our refrigerators to you, our budget when it comes to eating to you. Father God, we will eat the food of Heaven now in preparation for heavenly. This is our prayer in Jesus’ precious and holy name. Amen.



This message was presented at the AMEN Missions 2017 Bible Conference: “Shaken but not forsaken” in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. AMEN Missions, a supporting ministry of the Seventh Day Adventist Church is a youth-led ministry seeking to inspire young people to be Bible-based, mission-purposed, and Christ-centered Christians. Our aim is to assist in taking the gospel of Jesus Christ to all the world in this generation. For more resources like this or to find out how to support this work, visit us at www.amen.missions.fields.za. AMEN – Advent Message to Every Nation. This recording was produced by the Preparation ministry.


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