How long does it take to change a habit? NOT 21 Days!
A nail is driven out by another nail. Habit is overcome by habit. Desiderius Erasmus
We all bought into the myth that a habit takes 3 weeks to reach “automaticity” (the ability to do things without occupying the mind). This was based on junk science that has not been reproducible. A study in 2010 found that new habits took an average of 66 days, but the range was 18 to 254 days. Here are some habits clients of mine are working on “replacing”, using a nail to drive out another nail.
- Sporadic exercise replaced with 4 weekly pre-paid morning workouts led by an instructor. He honored his deep commitment to exercise with actions, Pre-paying helped him keep his commitments.
- People pleasing replaced with disappointing others. Her work had become far too complex and impossible to please everybody. Instead of contorting into a pretzel to accommodate those around her, she tapped into her bigger priority: being effective. Once she dropped the approval-seeking, she immediately became a far more effective and calmer person.
- Too many diet sodas replaced slowly over time, she dropped her intake in half for 2 weeks, then halved again after 2 weeks. She began drinking a full glass of water first thing in morning to get to 2 liters of water a day.
- A highly stressed and reactive mode at work replaced with daily mediation resulting in inner calm. He became far less reactive to people, places, and things he can’t control.
The take-away message is that if you want to develop a new behavior, it will take at least two months, and you shouldn’t despair if three weeks doesn’t do the trick – for most people that’s simply not enough. Stick with it for longer, and you’ll end up with a habit requiring no cognitive load. It is emancipation. So, find replacements, stay strong, you can do it. Remember…. you learned to brush your teeth without thinking about it, you can add another habit in much the same way.
Good habits are worth being fanatical about. John Irving
Lally, P., Van Jaarsveld,C., Potts, H. & Wardlee, J. (2009). How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world. European Journal of Social Psychology 40, 998–1009 (2010).
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