When I was in college, I worked a variety of shifts for dining services ranging from dishwasher to grill cook. As anyone who has worked late night or graveyard shifts knows, trying to keep up a healthy sleep schedule, morale, or diet can at times be difficult. Unfortunately, the miracle of coffee can only get one so far. One night when I was walking back home around 2am I was especially hungry since I hadn’t eaten right before I clocked in and didn’t have any food on me or left in my dorm. With all the stores closed, I ended up grudgingly going to a 24 hour pizza place to get something to eat- a decision that cost me about half of the wages I had earned that night. Had I just had an apple in my coat pocket or the supplies to make a sandwich at home that wouldn’t have been a problem. In fact, after eating something small I would have realized I wasn’t that hungry. I could have saved some money and felt much better about myself and my decisions (ie my ability to #adult as the kids say these days).
While this may seem a silly illustration, my mistake with planning ahead for food (and thus for budgets) shows that it is not enough to know one’s follies. Many of us spend much time ruminating over our mistakes, but knowing what your follies are and actually recognizing them and their associated triggers is something different. Seeing what leads to pitfalls, with guidance from someone who’s been there and learned their lessons, is a much better way to avoid repeating certain mistakes or getting into new ones. As Pastor Jeff said on Sunday, “Before you get some foolishness, get some wisdom.”
Psychology and biology tells us that our decisions and habits are impacted by triggers that prime us in favor of taking certain actions. As Jeff pointed out, these triggers are emotional, social, or environmental. If I am angry, anxious, or stressed, my body will go into fight-or-flight mode even if the situation doesn’t call for violence or running away. If a particular person always gets on my nerves, then I will tense up around them. If I was addicted to scrolling through Cracked or Onion articles instead of going to bed (you know you do it too), having my phone in my hand and not in the charger in the living room could be a trigger. If I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder and need a regular amount of sunlight to get vitamin D, the approach of Fall would impact my mood but I would internalize that negativity instead of trying to resolve it. And so on, and so on. Think through what you happen to struggle with in your own areas of foolishness and what thought patterns, actions, or environmental conditions lead up to those choices. If you can see a pattern, then you can break that cycle. Leave the phone in the living room overnight. Put your gym clothes in your backpack or suitcase the night before. Say a quick prayer, and take a few breaths, before that meeting with that difficult person. Use vitamin D supplements or a happy-lamp when the sun isn’t shining.
Realizing these triggers exist and figuring out what yours are will allow you to take a step back and say “Woah, wait a minute! I see what is happening here and I don’t want to go down that road again.” In my story at the beginning it would have meant realizing “oh wait I get hungry when I don’t eat for a certain number of hours, I bet bringing a snack or having something waiting in a crockpot would solve this problem.” Another example is that, as someone with a love of pastries and a family history of diabetes, I’ve learned to avoid the bakery at Giant or at least wait until the craving has passed instead of impulsively tossing a pie or coffee cake into my cart.
Finally, remember that finding those triggers is easier when you have someone with you who’s been there, done that, and actually learned their lesson. There is no shame in asking for help or seeking the counsel of a friend, family member, or elder. Galatians 3:13 says “But Christ has rescued us from the curse pronounced by the law. When he hung on the cross, he took upon himself the curse of our wrongdoing.” The ultimate person to seek counsel from is Christ himself through prayer and reflection on his word. If we believe that God loves us and has the power to help us, then we ought to bring our follies to him. By leaning on the guidance of someone who has wisdom and trusting in the love and strength of God, we can begin to identify, and step back from, our triggers.
John Dale Grover is a native of San Antonio, Texas and attended Bowdoin College in Maine. Currently he is a graduate student in Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University. He loves board games and owns way too many books. John is also an advocate for self-care and mental health.