What is a habit? According to Wikipedia, a ‘habit is a routine of behavior that is repeated regularly and tends to occur subconsciously. The American Journal of Psychology defines a "habit, from the standpoint of psychology, [as] a more or less fixed way of thinking, willing, or feeling acquired through previous repetition of a mental experience.’
It is common knowledge that it takes 21 days to form a habit … or is it?
The book Making Habits, Breaking Habits: Why We Do Things, Why We Don’t, and How to Make Any Change Stick explores the science of habit-formation, and cites one influential study that gives an answer to the elusive question of how long it takes for a new habit to take root:
In a study carried out at University College London, 96 participants were asked to choose an everyday behavior that they wanted to turn into a habit. They all chose something they didn’t already do that could be repeated every day. Many were health-related: people chose things like “eating a piece of fruit with lunch” and “running for 15 minutes after dinner.” Each of the 84 days of the study, they logged into a website and reported whether or not they’d carried out the behavior, as well as how automatic the behavior had felt.
On average it took 66 days until a habit was formed. There was considerable variation in how long habits became ‘automatic’ depending on what people tried to do. People who resolved to drink a glass of water after breakfast were up to maximum automaticity after about 20 days, while those trying to eat a piece of fruit with lunch took at least twice as long to turn it into a habit.
The exercise habit proved most tricky with “50 sit-ups after morning coffee,” still not a habit after 84 days for one participant. “Walking for 10 minutes after breakfast,” though, was turned into a habit after 50 days for another participant.
With these facts in mind I have come up with 5 ways to help you create new healthy habits for the year!
1. Choose carefully
2. Be Organised
4. Be Realistic
5. Reward yourself
6. Choose carefully
1. Choose carefully
There are so many to choose from. Paired with goal setting a general guide would be to improve things in these areas:
You may pick one form each area or just focus on a few areas that you think you are lacking. It is important that it is meaningful to you. The real power behind a habit is the ‘why’. Ask yourself a couple of times until you get to the emotional core. Ask yourself ‘What will this allow me to do/ grow/become/connect to’. Your answer will ignite your ability to sustain your new habit.
It is important that your goal is meaningful to you.
2. Be organised
If you fail to plan you plan to fail. Have a brainstorm, write down what you want to do and organise how, when and where. A really helpful tool is to have a visual somewhere you will see every day, like the fridge or the bathroom mirror where you brush your teeth. Organise a calendar month by month, habit by habit so you can tick then off on a daily basis. This will really help you stay on track.
Monthly habit tracker:
Daily habit tracker:
Write down how, when and where you will achieve your habit goal.
When you start a new habit, it can be really helpful to pair it with an old habit. For example if you want to add more steps in your day add it to something you already do every day … eating lunch! Right after you eat lunch take a short walk, and your new habit is more likely to stick. To get sign with pairing make a list of your daily established habits, then see where a new habit you’re working on might make the most sense to pair.
When you start a new habit, it can be really helpful to pair it with an old habit.
4. Be realistic
It is very easy to get carried away with grand ideas and extreme expectations while sat down in the comfort of your home … lol. It is so important to be realistic or you will set yourself up to fail. Be realistic on how many habits you want to change, how long it will take you and what they are. Remember you want these habits to stick and they should not be something difficult to achieve, it needs to fit into you day.
An example of this is when people think they will go from zero workouts to doing one every day. It won’t work, no matter how good your intention is. It is important to start small and build it up over time. Stephan Guise has written a book Mini Habits: Smaller Habits, Bigger Results, on the power of mini habits. He was continuously failing with his exercise program and what got him going eventually was just one push up every day.
That is how I started my fitness regime many moons ago. I ran 3 times a week for just 15 minutes. I didn’t care how far I went, I just focused on going steady a sticking to it. Now I exercise over 10 hours a week, but that has taken years to achieve.
It is important to start small and build it up over time.
5. Reward yourself
Set realistic, organised goals for your new habits and make sure you reward yourself once you have achieved them. These need to be weekly and monthly, or even daily! These can be things like treating yourself to a manicure, going for a swim, spending just a little bit more on dinner and getting the salmon instead of fish cakes. It really is a personal decision but make sure the reward is not defeating the purpose of the habit!
Make sure you reward yourself once you’ve achieved your goals.