Habits for Overcoming Selfishness and Loving People More

7 Habits for Overcoming Selfishness and Loving People More7 min read

By Jon Beaty

October 30, 2015

love, patience, kindness, generosity, gratitude

When the pie is cut, I look for the biggest piece. Sometimes I don’t let the car next to me merge into my lane. I don’t always apologize when I should.

I’m not as selfish as I used to be. I’m loving people more than I did before I chose to follow Jesus. But I haven’t overcome all my selfish habits and replaced them with selfless ones.

You’re probably in a similar position.

Perhaps you’re also like me in that you wish you could say you’re a selfless, self-sacrificing person. You want to love the way that God loves.

You want 1 Corinthians 13 kind of love.

But these virtues don’t describe you very well.

Which Wolf Do You Feed?

The story is told of a wise Cherokee brave who sat quietly at the side of his grandson. The grandfather and the boy sat in the warm glow of a small campfire. Perhaps the older man had noticed a spark in his grandson that a wind might stir into an uncontrolled blaze.

“There is a battle fought inside the heart of each man,” the grandfather said. “It is a battle between two wolves.

“One wolf is evil. It is filled with hatred, envy, greed, impatience, deception, despair, fear and rage.

“The other wolf is good. It is filled with love, gratitude, generosity, peace, joy, honesty, patience, hope, and kindness.”

The grandfather paused and waited.

The grandson’s locked his gaze on the fire. The grandfather watched out of the corner of his eye. He could see the boy thinking.

When the right amount of time had passed, the grandson turned his eyes toward his grandfather’s and asked, “Which wolf wins?

Their eyes still connected, the grandfather offered this simple answer: “The one that you feed.”

Are You Surviving or Thriving?

The neurons of your brain form pathways through which information travels, and impulses stimulate actions. The more often these pathways get used, the more habitual our responses become to certain types of experiences.

Our ancestors, like us, struggled to survive in a sin-stained world. Their survival depended on protecting themselves and their families from starvation and danger. Hundreds of years ago, survival was more difficult. As a result, you and I have inherited neural pathways intended to help us survive and defend ourselves against starvation and danger.

So, naturally I want to grab the biggest piece of pie, in case there’s no food tomorrow. I don’t want to let the car next to me merge, because I “need” to get to the kill before there’s nothing left for me. I don’t apologize, because I was protecting myself from being hurt.

Most of those inherited pathways are negative. Negative pathways make us prone to respond to experiences with behaviors better suited for survival than for thriving.

Survival is about having enough to get by. Thriving is about having an abundance that can be shared.

Survival begins with instincts encoded in what scientists refer to as the primitive part of our brain. Instincts are the things we do without having to think about doing them.

Thriving begins in the frontal lobe of our brain. It’s the part of the brain where we reason, use judgment, make decisions, and exercise self-control.

Sexual attraction and sexual desire are instincts deigned for human survival.

Human love requires reasoning that can only occur in the frontal lobe of the brain. Love is not a basic survival instinct. But taken to its extreme, love will lead a person to choose self-sacrifice for the survival of others.

The basic survival instincts make it more likely that we will produce the next generation of humans, and the race will survive. Survival instinct ensues that there will be children, and that they will be kept safe, warm and fed. Human love ensures that those children will have a nurturing mother and father, and a caring community of people committed to helping them become the best they can be.

Where instinct makes it possible for humans to survive into the next generation, love makes it possible for humans to thrive.

But we must feed the love.

For love to transcend our survival instincts, we must carve new pathways in our brain by developing new habits.

The Habits of Love

Here are 7 habits to cultivate to the selfless, self-sacrificing love that God gives us:

1. Choose love.

Make a conscious choice every day to love. As you start your day, receive God’s love with gratitude. Invite God to cultivate His kind of love in your heart by His Holy Spirit

Thank God for loving you enough to allow His Son Jesus to suffer and die for your sin. Thank God for reaching out across the universe to rescue you from being lost forever, and to bring you home to live with Him for eternity. And savor the simple blessings you receive each day, like air to breathe, clean water to drink, and food to eat.

2. Welcome love.

When we’re expecting guests in our home, we spend extra time cleaning. We want to give our guests a warm welcome. We want to show them respect. That’s one way we show we care about them.

When we choose love, we’re inviting God to send His Spirit as a guest into our lives. The apostle Paul said our body is a temple for the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). The Bible records God’s instructions for the care of our body temple, including what to think about, what to listen to, what to watch, and how to eat. Following these instructions equips our brain to work better, making it easier to manage our thoughts and emotions so we can love more.

3. Contemplate love.

Spend time each day observing perfect love in action. Read the Bible and witness the amazing love of God for humanity. The greatest expression of God’s love is seen in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

My favorite is John, because it reads like a love story. But evidence of God’s love can be discovered on every page of the Bible. Look for it, find it and dwell on it.

4. Practice humility.

Choose the smallest piece of pie. Give someone your seat. Apologize for your mistakes. Forgive people who wrong you. Do work that is “below your pay grade.”

Pride is the greatest barrier to receiving and giving love. We tell ourselves we don’t need love. We convince ourselves others don’t deserve our love.

We need to receive the mind of Jesus Christ, who acted as if others were more important than He is (Philippians 2:2-7). To receive the mind of Christ, we need to stop resisting it. We resist the mind of Christ by persisting as if our way is the most important way.

5. Practice kindness.

Compliment your spouse and your children. Pick up someone else’s dropped item and return it to them. Allow the car alongside you to merge into your lane.

Kindness softens our heart toward others. The King James Version of the Bible uses the word “gentleness” instead of “kindness” when describing the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22).

6. Practice patience.

Patience requires that we accept that some things are out of our control. Patience also requires that we not try to control others. And patience sometimes requires us to wait and allow things to move at their own pace.

To accept something is to acknowledge that it is what it is. It’s like gravity–no matter how much you want to change it, it’s going to be there as much as it was before you tried to change it.

Accept that your family isn’t going to be ready for church at the same speed as you. Accept that you and others will not learn at the expected pace, and will forget stuff and make mistakes. Accept that the traffic will move at the same pace, no matter how much you honk the car horn or how hard you slam your hands against the steering wheel.

7. Give generously.

Give someone else the last piece of pie. Pay for your coworker’s lunch. Buy that one thing your spouse has been wanting, instead of that new gadget you’ve been dreaming about.

It’s been said that true generosity is measured not by how much we give, but by how much we have left over.

Which of these actions are already habits for you? Which of these actions do you want to make a habit? Is there a habit you’d add to this list? Let’s talk about it in the comments below.


About the author

I help Christian leaders apply the ways and words of Jesus to:
- Overcome limiting beliefs, habits, and traits.
- Build stronger connections with the people they live and work with.
- Clarify and achieve their personal goals and life mission.

  • Jon,

    This is such a great list. Practicing patience is something I’m working on. My life is busy right now, and I find myself moving from one thing to the next, very quickly. Unfortunately, I sometimes get impatient with friends and family when they aren’t moving as quickly as I would like.

    Taking a deep breath, and accepting things as they are, really is a powerful tool. This is easier said than done, but I’m learning 🙂

    • Hey Jed,

      Patience is one I keep coming back to. I get focused on my agenda and start caring more about production than people. It does help relieve tension to take a deep breath, as you said.

      Thanks for commenting!

  • I’m with Jed here Jon. Great List. I think looking at these though they are all part of my life but I choose which ones I apply. Like for example I use more patience with my wife and kids than I do with anyone else. I give more generously to those who I think are in need and that isn’t just money but providing for other needs. I’m not as kind on the road some days as others, depending on if I skipped lunch that day or not. I could keep going with lots of examples.

    When I first started reading about the two wolves I remember a class I had with young fathers once and we were talking about how to discipline children. The facilitator made a statement which the story about the two wolves made me remember. It was simple but powerful for me at least. “Anger is sinful.” He would go on to discuss that anger is an emotion but we should never discipline or punish anyone out of anger. The best thing to do is wait some time when we can be fair and impartial when making a correction. I think he was trying to tell us was to starve the evil wolf with all the things you listed above.

    • Kirby,

      There is a lot of evil done to children out of anger. As with all our emotions, if we let it control us, we can hurt ourselves and others.

      Love seems to be the perfect antidote for anger. Not that love doesn’t lead to righteous anger, sometimes. But I tend to be more prone to unrighteousness anger.

      Thanks for commenting!

  • Wow! I have been raised Christian and thought I’d heard every lesson to be learned but this has opened my eyes to new ideas and gives me hope that I can improve myself and change what I am ashamed of, to be better. I will be living by the parable of the Cherokee and his message of the two wolves.

  • Recently I’ve been contemplating this topic. When you look at the commandments there are ten which Jesus reduced to two. But the lowest common denominator is love. Selfishness breaks that one commandment that is above every other law in heaven and earth—it breaks the law of love. “In the light from Calvary it will be seen that the law of self-renouncing love is the law of life for earth and heaven; that the love which “seeketh not her own” has its source in the heart of God.” DA 19. I wonder if the heart ❤️ of God is the source, perhaps it comes to us as a gift of God. What do you think? 🤔

    • Hi Cindy Lou! Yes, I believe you’re on the right track in wondering God is the source of love and that it comes to us as a gift. “Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” (1 John 4:7-8 NLT). I would go as far as to say that God is the only source of love, and that anytime true love appears in the universe it originated with God. Love is God’s character, and we see it in the life and words of Jesus in its most perfect form (you shared a great quote from Desire of Ages). God’s mission is to reproduce His love in humanity. God wants us to “become love” as He is Love, and to spread love far and wide so it is reproduced in others! “The object of the Christian life is fruit bearing—the reproduction of Christ’s character in the believer, that it may be reproduced in others.”  COL 67.1

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