We all have things we wish we would do more often. Maybe it’s working out… or waking up earlier to start the day. We know it would improve our lives. Yet making the change remains elusive. New habits are hard to keep.
We think about it, and maybe even dabble in it a little bit, and then it’s gone.
So how can we actually create a new habit and make it last? It’s a question worth asking, as our habits are what actually define who we are, what we accomplish and where we’re headed.
How Long does it Take to Create a New Habit?
In the 1960’s, a plastic surgeon named Maxwell Maltz observed that after an operation, his patients took about 21 days to adjust to their new look. Maltz published this finding in his book, “Psycho-Cybernetics,” which went viral and sold over 20 million copies.
And this is where the myth of “21 days” to create a new habit originated from. People like the idea of 21 days to make lasting change. It’s short and seems really doable.
Unfortunately, it’s not true.
How Long Does it Really Take?
A study in the European Journal of Social Psychology found that it took an average of 66 days to create a new habit. This study also found that:
- Missing a day or two didn’t have any impact on successfully implementing a new habit.
- More difficult habits, like doing 100 sit ups every morning, took longer than something simple like drinking a glass of water after breakfast every day.
- Some People are more resistant to forming new habits than others.
5 Tips to Successfully Make and Keep a New habit
Armed with this new information, we can create a plan to change our lives with a positive new habit.
Tip #1: Identify a New Habit You’d Like to Implement into your life.
You can probably already identify at least one thing you wish you’d do more often, or every day. Make sure it’s something that you can actually do. If it’s something unreasonable, you may be setting yourself up for failure. For example, instead of trying to wake up 3 hours earlier every day, you can get up one hour earlier. Doing too much, too soon is what causes a lot of people to fail.
Tip #2 Use Psychology to your advantage.
Our brains are hardwired with a built-in reward system. Think about it. Habits like smoking or overeating are easy to adopt. They’re easy because they trigger the reward system in our brains, releasing chemicals and causing feelings of pleasure.
When we’re trying to create a new habit, we can use this to our advantage. Every time you successfully perform the new act, give yourself a reward. If you’re waking up earlier, your reward can be a cup of coffee. If you’re working out, the reward can be a piece of chocolate or any other food that normally triggers pleasure for you. In time, working out will feel good and will replace the chocolate anyways!
Use your body’s own design to get what you want out of it.
Tip #3 Use Microgoals to ensure you can’t fail
This is expanding on Tip #1, when we said we shouldn't set an unreasonable goal. Setting small, achievable goals can ensure you’ll actually make a change successfully. Maybe you’d like to wake up 2 hours earlier, but the chances of making that last aren’t too great.
Willpower can only go so far, and it’ll never last for 66 days. Instead, try waking up 20 minutes earlier every day. Once you’ve established this new habit and it no longer takes any effort, you can work on another 20 minutes. Be creative and apply this principle to whatever your goal might be.
Tip #4 Don’t Let Yourself Fall Off The Cliff
When trying to start doing something new every day, you’re bound to miss a day here and there. Don’t be too hard on yourself, but never miss more than 1 consecutive day.
Once you’ve missed 2 or 3 days in a row, your habit is likely going to be broken and you’ll be starting from scratch again, which can be a really demotivating experience.
Instead, accept the temporary defeat of missing a day, then get back on the horse and keep riding off into the sunset.
Tip #5 Be Patient. Excellence and Greatness Don’t Happen Overnight
The whole point of creating a new habit is to improve yourself. We all have a vision of a best version of ourselves, and creating new habits is our attempt to get closer to becoming that person. By going after this goal, you’re on the right path. Have faith in that and embrace the journey. Every day that you complete successfully is another small victory.
Creating a new habit can be life changing. Like money in a 401k, small changes compound over time to become really big changes. Whatever it is that you're trying to accomplish, I hope this was helpful and I know you can get it done.
Don't wait another day. The time is never just right. The time is now!
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