Have you ever heard that it only takes 21 days to form a habit? In school, I was taught 6 weeks (42 days) was what you need to form a habit. The truth is that on average it takes more like 66 days (a little over two months) to form a habit. In fact, the research showed that for some people it took up to 254 days (about eight and a half months). That means for the average person it can take 66 days of exercising, 66 days of eating veggies, 66 days of drinking water, before those behaviors become normal. The good news is that during those 66 days, you are allowed to make mistakes. The same researchers who found that average, also found that missing the activity on occasion did not restart the habit forming process.
So what does this all mean for you? It means take it day by day. Breaking old habits and forming new ones is tough work. If you have a bad day, remember that tomorrow is a new day. If you find yourself having more bad days then good, then it may be time to reevaluate how you are going about the process. There may be something that you need to adjust in your schedule to make the new activity work. Constantly check in with yourself to see what makes the good days work and the bad days difficult. Adjust accordingly. You don't have to be perfect to make a positive change in your life, you just have to be consistent. Allow yourself to make mistakes and push yourself to move past them and stay on track.
Forming new habits takes a few steps:
Set a specific goal- Goal setting is an extremely important skill to have. Look into the SMART Goals framework to help with establishing any goals you have for yourself. For every goal you set, there should be a plan to achieve it. For example, a goal of "reading more" is not one that is going to encourage success. Instead the goal could be written as: I want to read 12 books in a year. To achieve this goal, I will read one book a month and will read every day for 2 hours before bed. You now have a plan in place for you to achieve your goal.
Keep it simple- Don't try to change your whole world in one step, it won't work. Start with bite sized changes and work your way up to something bigger. In the beginning of your habit forming process, it is not about completing the habit perfectly, but rather about making sure you complete the activity. Dr. Bj Fogg gives this example: If you want to start flossing daily, start with just one tooth. If you want to start running, start by just putting on your shoes. These small steps establish the action as a part of your routine and normalize the activity.
Set up a reminder for the activity- Find an activity that is already a routine part of your day that will help you to remember to do the activity. This can take a bit of work to find the right timing, but keep trying until you discover what works for you.
Reward yourself- This is could be telling yourself "Good job!", giving yourself a pat on the back or a rewarding yourself with something physical. By nature, we like to be rewarded when we accomplish things, so celebrate yourself. Some people pay themselves $0.50 or a $1.00 for completing a workout and using the money to buy something once they hit a larger goal. Others track their progress with stickers on a calendar. Acknowledge your good behavior and as your confidence in yourself grows, it will be easier to maintain.
Forming habits takes time. Don't set yourself up for failure by expecting a complete change in a month. Don't beat yourself up for having a bad day or a moment of weakness.
Want more information on establishing habits? Check out Dr. Bj Fogg's method.
Remember consistency, not perfection, is key.
What habits have you changed in life? What helped you make new ones or break old ones? Leave a comment below. Share and subscribe to stay up to date.
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