There are many theories on how long it takes to make a habit stick. A plastic surgeon proposed 21 days, but that was based on his observation on how long it took his patients to adjust to their “new look”. More recent work shows that it takes 66 days for automaticity to plateau.
No matter the number of days, it can be rather challenging to make a new habit, especially if you’re a creature of habit like myself.
Here are 8 key principles to help make your new habits “stick”:
Know yourself: what is you want? What do you want or need to change to help you achieve your goals? If you are able to prioritize your values and have a clear vision, you may form new habits more easily if they align with your master plan.
Understand your need for change: Why are you even bothering to make a change? If you’re aim is to become more active, you’ll need to understand that in order to make it happen you will need to change your daily routine. That means less time on the sofa or time in bed in the morning. Habits will be cemented when you understand why you’re doing it.
Know the real reasons why you failed previously – what was it that prevented you from getting into exercise the last time you tried? What obstacles did you face?
Pick habits that reinforce each other: All of our habits are interlinked. Staying up late working or watching TV and sleeping in won’t help if you want to start exercising before work. If this is the case, you may be better off going after work. Or get to bed early and get up in time, feeling rested. Your existing habits will strongly influence and reinforce other habits.
Make a plan: plan it all out in detail. Having a clear and concise game plan will give you the structure you need, so when it comes time for action, you’re ready to go!
Start small: You want to exercise more – but don’t aim to go the gym 5 days a week. Maybe 2-3. This will allow time to rest and recover in between sessions. Going hard too fast might put you off exercise all together or potentially increase your risk for injury!
Build your new habit into your regular routine: It’s easy to make excuses for not going to the gym or for that run outside. It’s cold. It’s raining. You’re tired. What if you traded your lunchtime hour of surfing the web for a gym session or a run?
Create a positive support network: surround yourself with like-minded family and friends who will support you in your quest for better health.
In the end, the number of days it takes to make a habit really doesn’t mean much. If you don’t understand yourself or your personal need for change you’ll never sustain the desired habit.