When I set my goals for the year and realised that many of them were habits, I thought that I’d have an easy time achieving them. How wrong I was! I’ve discovered a number of secrets about habits that I didn’t know before and are critical to helping me (and you!) change them. Are you ready to know the first secret?
Secret #1: Habits take 2 months to form on average
If you want to develop a habit, you need to do it consistently every day for 66-70 days before it becomes second nature. That’s over two months!! And for some people it can take longer than this. Right now I feel like I’m one of the “some people “!! This secret was a big shock to me. I had always heard that it took about 21 days to form a habit. And although, that’s never been true for me, I always felt that it was because the ’21 day people’ were super-driven over-achievers (of which I am not one!).
So if it takes 66-70 days on average, all those habit tracker charts that last for just one month are pretty useless! A quarterly or annual calendar is more helpful for tracking habits if it can take this long to change.
Lesson: give yourself time!
Secret #2: You can only form one habit a time
If you want to be successful in creating new habits, you should only focus on forming one habit at a time. What??? Now it could be that I’m quite an ambitious person, or extremely optimistic or just rather impatient! But I’ve got quite a few habits that I want to develop this year. And they’re not all gonna happen if I only do them one at a time! Especially when I need to give myself at least two months for them each!
It’s only through the course of studying habits that I’ve come to realise just how many I’ve got on my plate. After learning this secret, I know I’m going to have to go back to the drawing board on my goals for the year! For example, my morning routine is made up of several habits alone!
Lesson: take your sweet time girl and try not to bite off more than you can chew.
Secret #3: If you want to change a habit, you need to know how they work
When this year began, I didn’t really know how habits worked (obviously!). But I’m starting to understand them a bit more now. And I’ve learned that a habit is made up of a trigger, a behaviour and a reward. For example; if you have the habit of watching a lot of TV, perhaps your trigger is seeing the TV. Then your behaviour is sitting on the sofa and picking up the remote control. And your reward is the laughter or thrill you get from the show you watch.
So changing a habit requires replacing the old behaviour with a new one. And the reward you get may also be different because of this. Let’s take the TV example. You see the TV (your trigger), but instead of doing what you normally do (old behaviour), you pick up a book and start reading (new behaviour). Your reward is learning something new or enjoying the fiction you’re reading (as well as knowing you’re no longer watching too much TV!). That’s just an example, but you get the idea.
So changing your old habit requires identifying what triggers your habit and then putting a new behaviour in place of your old habit. I’ve talked about activation triggers before, and this kind of touches on that idea.
<Trigger – old behaviour – old reward> is now changed to: <Trigger – NEW behaviour – NEW reward>
Lesson: identify the components of a habit to effectively change it.
Secret #4: You’ve got to have no way out
Now, here is where those super-driven over-achiever types can really slam dunk new habits every time. The secret to habit change here is that you can’t allow for any exceptions to the new habit you are trying to train. If you want to succeed in changing your habit faster, you’ve got to give yourself NO WAY OUT! Go cold turkey on your old behaviour – at least for the first 66-70 days. Whoah!!! I’m so bad at this!! I get days when I’m tired and I just don’t have the strength to do XYZ because it takes more mental energy and stamina than I’ve got to accomplish it.
That’s the thing though. It takes more mental energy because it’s not a habit. Habits, by their very nature require less of our brain power and energy because we do them….habitually! If you really struggle with this one like I do, it might be worth keeping your sights on the end goal. The new habit that we are creating will eventually become second nature if we push through those tired-can’t-be-bothered-to-try-anymore times. We’ve just got to keep our morale up, get our war paint on and focus on the target!
Lesson: be your own drill sargeant!
So, if you have a habit that you want to change this year, use these tips:
- Remember to give yourself time to train your habit. Two months or more is a good start.
- Also, go easy on yourself and try changing only one habit at a time to increase your success rate.
- If you have a habit that you’ve been finding hard to change, try understanding what’s triggering it and what behaviour you can substitute that provides a substantial enough reward for change.
- You’ll increase your chances of changing a habit if you give yourself no way out for the first two months. Be your own drill sargeant!
After the first two months of altering your habit and giving yourself no exceptions, you should be through the hardest part and settling into your brand new habit! And if you ask me, all that hard work deserves a reward! I love rewards! And you don’t need to ask me twice to give myself a treat! What reward would you give yourself for taking your sweet time to build your habit?