DIRECTOR’S NOTE – How long does it take to break a bad habit?

I’m confident anyone who reads this knows what it’s like to break a bad habit, whether it’s to quit caffeine, stop negative speech, or resist road rage. When I was growing up, my father made the decision to stop smoking. He said it was one of the hardest things he ever did, but didn’t want his children to be exposed to second-hand smoke.

Habits like these usually begin as a subconscious creep. They help us cope with life’s daily stressors. Eventually life stabilizes to the point where we don’t need to cope, and we begin to reflect on our negative coping mechanisms. Often times we hit a point where our habits conflict with our values. Perhaps an external conviction or inspiration initiates that desire to change—social media is full of our peers making declarations. Maybe it’s a friend who pulls us aside to speak about said habit. Whatever the reason, we realize we dislike something and make an attempt to change.

This might help you empathize with residents in our programs. Overcoming a habit might sometimes feel hopeless. But with the right factors, recovery is possible.

Recently I was reading an article in a popular magazine that claimed anyone can break a habit within three months. Commonly known as the 21-90 rule, this theory suggests that time is the biggest catalyst for a breaking a bad habit. For many who have started and then failed a New Year’s resolution, this may inspire hope. Just stick with it for 90 days!

To some degree, I agree time is essential. It’s the reason our program is 10 months long, rather than some other programs that top out at about a month. However, I think the author’s perspective is a little too narrow. Habits formed in adolescence or as a result of major trauma can take much longer. This is the case for nearly every single resident at the Rescue Mission. Our residents need more than just time.

One of my favorite verses in the Bible is 1 Cor. 10:13 which reads: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

Temptation is human and God is faithful in the midst of temptation. Because of this conviction, here are critical components of our program:


Not necessarily just belief in Jesus, though we introduce every single resident to the Gospel. The faith I’m talking about is faith in God’s promises. Trusting that God is who He says He is, and will do what He said He would do. In this case, when we experience temptation, God will provide a way out. We teach our residents to be aware of their triggers, and the roots of those triggers. We journey with them through past trauma, and lead them to healing. We teach them to work with God to form escape routes they can engage whenever they’re feeling temptation, like sensitivity to the Holy Spirit, mentor relationships, memory verses, and healthy coping skills. These are skills our residents use for the rest of their lives.

Knowledge of false beliefs

These are tapes that have been playing in the minds of our residents for most of their lives. “I’m the only one” or “I’ll never fully recover” or “I’ve missed God’s plan for my life.” Discovering a resident’s false beliefs is tough, but once aware of them our clients begin to experience real life transformation.


We teach our residents that they’re at their best when they confess. We are at our worst when we keep secrets. One of the greatest ways we unlearn false beliefs is through confession. It’s amazing how fast false beliefs like “I can never overcome temptation” dissolves away when we know someone is praying for us.


Like so many things in life, recovery is messy, with lots of starts and stops. Jesus is using the lives of these guys (and soon, gals!) for His purposes. When our desire to break bad habits coincides with God’s plan, the miraculous happens. Not because it can’t happen without the miracle, but because God wants to shine through our brokenness. That’s one of the biggest false beliefs I’d like our residents to overcome: that they should be ashamed of their testimonies. The reality is that God is using the transformative story of our residents’ lives to encourage and enrich the lives of all of you. If you’re reading this you’re a Rescue Mission stakeholder, and you know what goes on inside Mission walls. You don’t support or volunteer with the Mission out of pity, but out of enthusiasm, knowing God is on the move, working in our world, performing the miraculous right in our backyard.