Have you ever tried to instill a new habit…and failed? (New Year’s resolutions anyone?!)
In reality, most of us have been in this disappointing situation, but rather than beating ourselves up, it’s far better to understand what it truly takes to form a new habit, so next time we can act from a position of knowledge, which will boost our chances of success.
First let’s examine the ‘truths’ we’ve been lead to believe, and see if they really stack up.
You’ve probably heard the saying that it takes 21 days to form a habit. It has become one of those meme-worthy ‘facts’ that we fully accept at face value, without ever wondering if it’s even true!
But did you know there is NO scientific data to back up the 21-day habit-forming claim?
It’s actually based on anecdotal evidence from the plastic surgery patients of one doctor, and the claim itself dates back to the 1950’s
You can read more about why that study lead us all in the wrong direction for decades in the article published by the University College London (UCL) entitled, “Busting the 21 days habit formation myth.”
Researchers at the University College London did a much more scientific study of the timing around habit formation that was published in the European Journal of Social Psychology.
“Participants performed a self-chosen health-promoting dietary or activity behavior (e.g. drinking a glass of water) in response to a once-daily cue (e.g. after breakfast), and gave daily self-reports of how automatic (i.e. habitual) the behavior felt. Participants were tracked for 84 days.”
What Is the real answer to how long it takes to form new habits?
According to the UCL study, they found it takes an average of 66 days to form a new habit. But that it can vary widely based on the individual and their unique circumstances. For one person it took just 18 days, whereas another person didn’t manage to form a habit within the whole 84-day study, but was projected to do so after as long as 254 days.
So what does this all mean for us?
In a nutshell, to give ourselves a higher chance of success we need to reset those habit-forming expectations for a lot longer than 21 days!
Look at it this way. The 66 day average for instilling a new habit would mean our New Year’s Resolutions would start sticking around March 6th.
Most of us give up long before this date…but this clearly shows we need to stick with it.
So what can you do to stack the odds in your favor to form new habits?
There are four simple strategies we recommend, to succeed with your new habits in a way that not only produces stronger formed, longer lasting habits but also does it in less time!
1. SET YOURSELF UP FOR SUCCESS
The Health Psychology Review wrote, “Habits are automatic behavioral responses to environmental cues, thought to develop through repetition of behavior in consistent contexts.”
If we give ourselves the right environments and triggers and place ourselves in the right set of circumstances, we can dramatically improve our chances for success.
For example, if you want to set a new habit of eating healthy food instead of fast food you need to tell the rest of the family so they’re all on board and have a plan of what you’re going to eat to replace that fast food in your diet.
Likewise, if you want to start working out in the morning before breakfast have your workout clothes laid out ready the night before so it becomes automatic to put them on, and workout.
2. GOOD OLD REPETITION
There is a good reason why studies focus on the amount of time it takes to form new habits, as persistence over a time period is a key element of creating repetition-forming behaviors.
If you tell yourself that forming your new habit IS going to take at least a couple of months, then you’ve given yourself the right realistic expectations from the start.
How we frame our expectations is one of the biggest motivators to either continue or stop anything in life that we are trying to accomplish…so why would forming habits be any different?
3. WHAT BEATS OUT MENTORSHIP FOR ACCOMPLISHING ANY GOAL?
Research by psychologist Robert Cialdini and Tim Church, MD shows that finding a buddy who can work with you is one of the best ways to accomplish change. This is a very healthy form of peer pressure, that can actually work better than even mentorships.
So grab yourself an accountability partner and improve your chances of success.
4. GET THE RIGHT MINDSET
The British Journal Of Social Psychology wrote an article entitled, “Beyond frequency: Habit as mental construct.”
Here’s an excerpt from the article, “A habit seems to be accompanied by an enduring cognitive orientation, which we refer to as “habitual mindset.”
This makes good sense, right? If we don’t have the right mindset towards accomplishing our new habit forming behaviors then how can we ever expect to accomplish them. Habit formation isn’t about repetition alone. If we don’t go in with a winning mindset, then we can’t expect the results we really want.
So what’s next?
Well, now that you know the truth…tap into these 4 winning strategies and GET EXCITED!
New success habits are literally around the corner for you. What would your life be like if in a couple of months you could have your biggest new habit goal impacting your future?
I believe the answer to that question is that habit formation is life changing in the short term, just not quite as short as those 21 days we once thought.
Good luck on your new habits and what you know you can accomplish.