You might have heard that it takes 21 days to form a new habit, however, research from the University College of London suggests that the average time it takes to ingrain a new behaviour and automaticity to occur is 66 days.
If you are motivated and the habit you are looking to establish is important to you, then your behaviour will change. If you are not motivated and the habit is not important to you, then your behaviour will not change. Your behaviour needs to be chosen by you, do not try and satisfy external demands (Deci and Ryan 1987).
If you are motivated and have something important enough to want to change, then start by going small….really small. Lally et al (2010) note that for a new behaviour to become automatic it is key to keep the action as simple as possible.
So, to begin with try something such as starting your day with 4 to 6 deep breaths and a glass of water with a squeeze of lemon. Twenty minutes of meditative breathing followed by some elaborate smoothie concoction with acai and spirulina just won’t work. “Simple actions become habitual more quickly”.
In his book “The One Thing” Gary Keller says “The trick to success is to choose the right habit and bring just enough discipline to establish it”. Gardner, Lally and Wardle (2012) suggest the following steps to habit forming:
1) Decide on the goal(s) you would like to achieve for your health
2) Choose a simple action aligned to your goal which you can do daily
3) Be consistent by planning when and where you do your chosen action. Pick a time and place.
4) Every time you encounter the time and place and do your chosen action
5) It will becomes easier and in around 10 weeks the action should start to happen without you thinking about it
Oaten and Cheng (2006) determined that incorporating one new habit has a flow on effect to how you implement other new behaviours throughout your life; drinking water and breathing deeply will lead to other healthy habits occurring more easily; whether that is eating more fresh food or exercising. Don’t over complicated things though. If you are trying to create new habits whilst simultaneously trying to break an existing habit this will require a much greater effort and entirely different strategies than forming a new habit alone (Gardner and Lally 2013).
Perhaps I’m bias when it comes to championing exercise as a healthy habit but Charles Duhigg in his book “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in life and Business” states “People who exercise start eating better and becoming more productive at work…and say they feel less stress…exercise is a keystone habit that triggers widespread change”
This seems like a pretty good reason to choose exercise as your healthy habit through these challenges times and beyond if you ask me, but don’t let me decide that for you. Remember, any change must be important to you and take it just one step, and one day, at a time!