There’s an unexpected gift in your life. It’s called disillusionment.
I know what you’re thinking.
Disillusionment—the feeling of disappointment that comes upon discovering something is not as good as you previously believed—that’s generally not considered a gift. We believe disillusionment to be something be avoided; worked through; side-stepped. And for good reason—disillusionment can cause issues. Disillusionment at work brings apathy. Disillusionment in marriage causes conflict. Disillusionment in physical health can result in complications. None of that sounds like a gift I’d like to unwrap. But I’m learning that disillusionment—when it causes us to move, when it prompts action—can be a powerful force. I’ll say it again: it might even be a gift.
For the past few months, I’ve been experiencing growing disillusionment with my physical health. Too often, I find myself turning to food for comfort when I’m stressed, or overwhelmed, or just emotional. My frustration over how quickly I turn to food to medicate a bad day, or a negative feeling had been snowballing. I’ve almost gained back all of the weight that I lost years ago, despite continually “trying” to eat healthy. I hate this cycle. I feel guilty about even having to write these words. But I decided to take action. I know this sounds crazy, but I did something extreme: I actually called up my doctor and made an appointment. I know! What a novel idea!
My doctor suggested that my binge snacking might be more than just a string of bad decisions. He used the word “habit.” I cringed at hearing that word, but the more I thought about it, I realized he was probably right. He then took the time to introduce me to the Habit Loop. It’s been a simple tool, but one that’s brought amazing insight.
First, there’s a trigger: the reminder that signals us into the routine.
Second, the routine begins: the habit itself (which could be good or bad).
Third, there’s a reward: the positive feedback that closes the loop.
And the cycle repeats.
The Habit Loop shows that every habit, good or bad, is led by a trigger. That trigger causes us to take action, to jump into the tide of the loop. For my snacking, the trigger is always stress. It pushes me into a routine—for me, it’s binge snacking, turning to food for comfort. The reason I engage that routine, however, is because it leads me to a reward. For me, the taste of my favorite snack made me feel, for a moment in time, a bit better. Less stress was my reward. So the next time stress happened in my life, I repeat that pattern. The continual choice to turn to snacks turned it into a habit, one I suddenly woke to find was growing outside my control.
There’s a problem with the reward, though—it’s diminishing. Meaning, the more we get of a reward, the less it works for us. I found this out myself. The first time I turned to food to medicate my stress, it felt amazing. But the second time, it was a little less helpful. The 15th time I did it, the difference was enormous—it didn’t make me feel better at all. I was just eating because I’d fallen into the habit. This is the same effect pushing all addictions, good and bad, from drugs to working out. The more we get, the less we feel, so the more we go in search of the reward. Drug addicts seek out harder drugs. Workout junkies search out harder workouts. I eat more snacks.
The key that my doctor turned me onto, and where I’ve felt like I met God, is in choosing to feel my disillusionment and then letting it push me out of the Habit Loop.
If we think emotions are all bad, then we’re not seeing a complete picture of reality. Yes, emotions can cause us to make bad decisions. Yes, there are moments in time when you should absolutely tell your emotions to shut up. But paying attention to your emotions can also be a way that God breaks into your world.
The key to breaking bad habits in your life is to look for the Habit Loop. What are your triggers? What is the routine you fall into? What “reward” are you searching for in it? In the past, I would have ignored the disillusionment I was feeling about my health, my weight, my food choices—but I actually think God wants me to feel disillusioned with my reward so that I’m compelled to make a better choice.
Psalm 16:11, in reference to God, says that:
You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
We get into the Habit Loop because we feel like the reward is going to be a pleasure that lasts, that it will bring the fullness of joy. But no matter what our reward is—ice cream, sex, endorphins from working out—the reward never lives up to expectation. That’s because nothing, absolutely nothing, was meant to bring us eternal pleasure except God Himself. He owns the path of life; his presence is the fullness of joy; in his possession are pleasures forevermore.
One of the ways God gets our attention is by allowing us to experience and feel disillusionment. Sometimes, we have to get the edge and see just how much it sucks—how little that snack actually does for my stress level. God wants our full attention and cannot (and should not) accept anything second-best in our life. He is either the King or nothing. When we start to feel disillusionment and diminishing returns, we need to recognize that it just might be the canary in the coal mine, cluing us in to the fact that we’re running to something other than God for meaning, comfort, or peace.
I actually believe God wants us to be happy and to enjoy our lives. But He knows we can’t fully experience that until He sits in the highest position in our lives until we are 100% fully his. So God will wean us off of everything we go to for reward, for pleasure, for comfort, for power, that isn’t Him.
The key sign that weaning is about to take place just might be disillusionment. And in that way, disillusionment is not only a gift but a good and necessary one. God is using it to change my health and eating habits. If you’re feeling disillusionment, it just might be God’s invitation to change your life as well.