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How do you respond when someone points out a mistake you’ve made?
Sometimes we might feel insecure or become angry or defensive. But these responses aren’t positive or helpful. In this final installment of Winning the Battle of the Mind we’ll examine a three-step process to victory in these kinds of battles.
The excellent book The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg gives insights into how our thinking affects our habits. It identifies the “Habit Loop”: Cue → Routine → Reward.
The Cue is what happens to us, the Routine is the way we respond, and the Reward is the reason we respond that way—the benefit we feel from that response. Once the Routine becomes a habit it becomes virtually automatic.
In the above example, the Cue was criticism (valid or invalid—it doesn’t matter). That led to feeling insecure, devalued, or threatened. And the response (Routine) was to get angry or defensive. The Reward for becoming angry or defensive is that it takes our mind off our insecurity and can result in receiving less critical feedback. But none of these helps us grow or become more Christ-like.
Step 1: Identify the Root
The truth is that we can’t change the Cue; at some point people are going to point out mistakes we’ve made or ways we can improve—which is good (Colossians 3:16, Matthew 18:15). We also can’t stop the feelings of insecurity from occurring. So, what can we do?
We can redirect those feelings to the truth. Aquinas points out that all sin is ultimately a disordered desire for the good. In this case, the good that we desire is to feel secure and valued. And the truth is that we are both—the lie is the feeling that we are not. So, in response to those “dishonest” feelings, we need to form a new Routine. To do that we first identify the root feeling (in this case, insecurity)
Step 2: Replace the Routine
Now change the routine—choose a different response. Here’s how:
- Identify the opposite good (being loved, valued, and secure in this case), to the lie
- Identify the truths that counter the false feeling. For example, to counter insecurity remember that:
- I am a dearly loved child of God (Ephesians 5:1–2)
- He is actively working all things together for my good (Romans 8:28)
- He is all-powerful so can bring that good about (Isaiah 59:1)
- Even if the other person really means to harm me (Genesis 50:20)
Step 3: Desire and Belief
Studies found that this replacement strategy works well most of the time. But the researchers also discovered that for the new habit to really take hold, for it to keep working even in times of great stress, we also need to address our desires.
St. Josemaria Escriva gives us this prayer as a starting point:
“Lord, increase my desire for you and my desire for all those other things you want me to desire.”
And Scripture reminds us to have the same mind as Christ (Philippians 2:5), whose only desire was to do the will of the Father (John 6:38).
The book also notes a 4th component of the Habit Loop, which develops over time, that makes it so powerful: Craving (desire). We start to crave the reward. The researchers found that the key to establishing new desires is belief—faith that the old habit can be replaced by a new one. Which is great news because:
- We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13)
- He has given us everything we need for life and godliness in him (2 Peter 1:3)
- And he will never leave or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5)
So, when faced with the old habit, through Christ’s strength we can replace it with a new one (we can put off the old and put on the new—Ephesians 4:22–24). We do that by redirecting those feelings towards the truth. And all of this in faithful obedience to God who has told us to take captive every thought for Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). Prayer is the best means to this victory. Here’s an example prayer we might pray the next time we encounter criticism and are tempted by insecurity or defensiveness:
Lord, in the name of Jesus and by His strength, I reject these feelings of insecurity and defensiveness because I know that I am your dearly loved child and that you work all things for my good. Thank you for reminding me of this and leading me to prayer through it. Jesus, I trust in you.
By repeating this prayer three times when we are tempted, we can more readily turn the new Routine into a habit. And by asking for the help of St. Michael or our Guardian Angel, we tap into the power of the communion of the saints for aid in doing so.
Finally, the researchers discovered that the new, positive, replacement Routine, when fortified with new desires and practice, eventually becomes as natural and effortless as the old routine had been. And that should give us great courage and hope in fighting to win the Battle of the Mind![Read Part 1 Are You Winning the Battle of the Mind? here and Part 2 The Saint’s Battle here]
This article was originally published by the Center for Advanced Leadership and Catechetics Consulting. It is republished with permission.