Building Strong Habits and Virtue

Recently on The Patrick Madrid Show, listener Maria called in to tell her story of past addiction and how she got over it. Patrick likened the decision to form good habits to the learning of instruments and discussed why the small decisions in life matter.

Maria said that she started smoking marijuana in high school. Even though she was a cradle Catholic who thought she had a close relationship with God, temptation overwhelmed her. Her parents never permitted drugs in their house, but exposition to it when she was young and around friends led her to try it and eventually use it regularly.

Eventually, Maria became so accustomed to smoking marijuana that it took a toll on her physical behavior. She knew she had a problem, but she didn’t know how to stop. “I started being in that fog, and you start getting sick and tired of being sick and tired,” she said. Fortunately, she ended up in a 12-step program and she said that is where she found her spirituality. She has a copy of an image referenced by Patrick earlier that depicts Jesus knocking on a door. In the image, you can see there is no doorknob on Jesus’ side of the door. We must be the ones to open that door to Christ.

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Patrick recounted a story from the late 1970s when he and his band were playing a set at a house party. He said he remembered there being drugs everywhere and everybody smoking marijuana, as was typical of parties like these. He had stepped outside to get some fresh air and had joined a conversation with a few other people standing in a circle. As they talked, he saw the others passing around a joint. As the conversation went on, the joint slowly made its way counterclockwise until it was in the hands of a pretty girl standing to Patrick’s left.

After she took a hit, Patrick realized that it was decision-time. As she raised the joint to pass it to him, thoughts flashed through his mind. “Quite honestly, I had no interest in smoking that, but she was pretty, you know. And I didn’t want to look like a doofus, and I didn’t want to be a dork. So, all these thoughts are going through my mind instantaneously.” He said she smiled at him as she offered to him, but he shook his head and said, “No thanks.” A look of disdain passed over her face as she passed it to the person on Patrick’s right.

As Patrick walked away from that experience, he thought about how lucky he was. His guardian angel had saved him from choosing the wrong path at that fork in the road. It may have seemed like a small choice at first glance, choosing not to smoke weed at a party. But that choice had a great influence on Patrick’s future choices. If he could say no to drugs in the face of peer pressure, he could say no to all manner of vices in the future.

In Luke’s gospel, Jesus says, “‘The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones; and the person who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones.’” (Luke 16:10) Essentially, the decisions we make in small matters will affect the habits we build over time. If we choose immorality now, we might be more inclined to choose immorality again. And vice versa, making good decisions now will build good habits for later down the line when it is much more difficult.

Virtue and good habits are when we fight against our default, the sinful natures that we have as a result of original sin. We might be inclined to indulge in lustful thoughts, or eat too much food, or ingest substances that are in violation of our Faith. Virtue is the power to stop those temptations in their tracks and do the opposite. Slowly, we will begin to recalibrate our faulty nature. “But what happens then is over time, like building muscles, that becomes your default. So, being honest becomes your default. Where you may for years have to struggle with that, eventually the virtue of honesty, in this case, would supplant the weed or the vice of dishonesty because that just becomes your default.”

Patrick compared the process of building good habits to the way musicians practice. “There’s an analogy between someone who works at developing virtues and someone who practices playing an instrument so as to become a really good musician. Both require a lot of practice and determination and involve trial and error. Eventually, what once was difficult and required effort becomes easy and effortless—a stable disposition one comes to possess over time.”

Listen to the whole talk below:

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John Hanretty serves as a Digital Media Producer for Relevant Radio®. He is a graduate of the Gupta College of Business at the University of Dallas. Besides being passionate about writing, his hobbies include drawing and digital design. You can read more of his daily articles at relevantradio.com and on the Relevant Radio® app.