We hear it all the time, right? To form a solid habit, perform your goal for a magical 21-day window and … viola! But just like using BMI to measure one’s health (a long outdated method), assuming that all it takes is 21 days to form a solid habit is a great way to set yourself up for an intense feeling of BLAH.
Because, while some people rock those 21 days like it aint’ no thang, others (myself included) take a bit longer – and that’s okay! Today we’re diving into how long it REALLY takes to form a habit – and once you do, how to make it stick!!
It actually takes more than two months for a habit to solidify – and UP TO EIGHT!!
The thing about habit formation is that everyone is so vastly different; different personalities, environment, histories. To expect that each and every person will magically fit inside this box is bananas. Fun fact: in a study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, health psychology researched Phillipa Lally concluded that it can take up to 254 days!!
This means that you need to stop being so hard on yourself. Seriously. If it always feels like an uphill battle and like something’s wrong with you because you can’t make your habits a thing after 21 days, that’s probably because that window simply doesn’t work for you. Understanding that it might actually take you longer is fuel for your journey – motivation to keep going because while you may not be there yet, you are on your way, in your time and making strides.
So often people give up after a set period of time and conclude that they just can’t do it. But what if those same people embraced a more relaxed timeline and learned to celebrate the mini milestones?
Your dedication at the jump matters more.
Missing a day here and there as you work to acquire a new habit isn’t a big deal, but in the beginning (the first 2-3 weeks or so) you are setting the foundation, so it’s most critical at that point to focus on consistently performing said activity.
Example: if your goal is to be a morning workout warrior (go you!!), it’s most critical that you get up, don’t hit snooze and get your body moving as consistently as possible in the beginning. Then, as time goes on and from time to time you miss a morning session, you will have already begun building your foundation and you’ll no longer be working with a house of cards. You’ll actually CRAVE your morning habit and your rebound will be faster.
Commit to the process, NOT the timeline.
If you’ve known me for any length of time you know that I’m a HUGE fan of small things over time making a big impact on your life. The little things you do each day DO matter and they add up to BIG rewards. Think of it like this: a $3.65 morning coffee doesn’t seem like a big deal until you realize that you’re spending $100+ just on coffee that you could be making at home yourself. Now, I’m not knocking artisan coffee (I’ve been known to indulge myself), but if your goal is get better with your budget and you’re performing this habit every day, you can see how over time it’s sabotaging you.
Another example: you’re on point all throughout the week, but every single weekend you fall completely off track and always feel like you have to “start over” when Monday rolls around. You rack your brain trying to figure out what’s up and why you’re not getting the results when you’re working so hard – but if you stopped to consider that two days per month totals 96 days per YEAR that you’re totally off your game …. that’s a BIG deal, right!? It’s nearly a THIRD of your year. I’m all about mindful indulgences, but for most people I talk to the weekend is not mindful – it’s a bunch of stuff that totally derails them.
To be successful long term you’ve got to commit to the process day in and day out – NOT the amount of time it will take to get where you’re going. What can you do every day? How quickly can you rebound when you’ve fallen off track? What can you do differently and learn in each unique situation? Ask yourself these questions and watch your frustration melt away.
Embrace the habit loop when you’re trying to correct a negative habit.
Charles Duhigg wrote an excellent book on this subject called “The Power of Habit”. The most groundbreaking aspect of it is how our habits become so automatic that we don’t even realize they’ve taken over. Just like we can drive and listen to music or the radio at the same time and fully comprehend it, our brains learn to automate other behaviors as well.
He talks about how the best way to change a habit is to understand it and get curious about it. YAY for mindfulness! Duhigg helps us further understand habit formation with something called the “habit loop”.
First, you have a cue – usually something stressful but could also be something mundane. Regardless, it’s something your brain subconsciously attaches to and associates with a behavior.
Then, you have a routine. Feel stressed at work after interacting with your boss, go back to your desk and have a handful of junk food.
Next, your reward. You feel a momentary sense of pleasure and bask in it (just like drugs and alcohol).
Then when you go home that night, you figure “why not” and eat whatever even when you know it’s not nutrient dense and it isn’t doing you any good. I mean, you already “messed up”, right? So you enter this vicious cycle that you don’t even realize until one day you stop and think “how the hell did I get here??”
The key, says Duhigg, is to replace the ROUTINE with something healthy and equally satisfying but that won’t sabotage your goals/life/health.
To be successful long term you’ve got to commit to the process day in and day out – NOT the amount of time it will take to get where you’re going. What can you do every day?
I don’t have to tell you that habit formation is a complex subject – there are countless books on the subject. But maybe, just maybe, that’s part of your problem: it feels like such a big task that it’s easier to “get to it tomorrow” when you’re not stressed out about it anymore … which won’t happen. What if you looked at things more simply? What if you focused on those small steps each day and really got curious about WHY your sabotaging habits became a constant in your life in the first place?
And above all else, give yourself some grace. If you don’t quite grasp every aspect by the 21-day mark, KEEP GOING. Success is on the other side of that steep hill. It’s on the other side of your self-doubt. It’s every single step, every single day.
Until Next Time,