OLD HABITS DIE HARD
There are many conflicting ideas about how long it takes to learn a new habit and I have looked at research on the topic and found quite interesting facts about habit changing.
It is often believed, that it takes 21 days to change a habit. However, this belief is not based on evidence, and in fact it stems from an investigation into how long it takes after a limb amputation that the patient still feels the amputated limb. It was found that it takes on average 21 days for the patient to not feel the amputated limb.
Research from University College London showed that the average time to learn a new habit is about 66 days; however, individual times ranged from 18 to 254 days. As you can see, there’s no typical time frame for breaking a habit, and a lot depends on your personality, your motivation, the circumstances, and the habit you want to change. It has been demonstrated that learning new habits that are aligned with your personal values will happen faster than if you are changing habits for external reasons, such as pressure from others.
What about trying to break an unwanted habit?
Habits are literally entrenched at the neural level, that is neural pathways have been created in your brain. For new habits, new neural pathways have to be created and that takes time.
I tell my clients to imagine their brain is a jungle, overgrown with vegetation and they have to force a path through it. The first time you walk on the new path will be very difficult. You need a knife to cut through the vegetation to carve out a very narrow path at first.
However, each time you walk on that same path it gets a bit wider and is easier to get through. After some time, the path is very wide and you can effortlessly walk along it.
Here are some simple tips to help you change your habits and create new ones
First of all, if you try and change too many habits simultaneously, you might find yourself overwhelmed and give up. I know, that often the “all or nothing” thinking occurs at the beginning of wanting to make changes to your lifestyle. You might feel motivated and think to yourself, for example, that from now on you are going to walk every day and cut out sugar and stop eating after 7 pm. That type of “all or nothing” thinking is unhelpful and will lead to failure in the long run.
Tip 1) Pick just one habit at a time and keep it really simple. If you haven’t walked before, break it down into smaller chunks. Make the goal so small that you think to yourself “this is really easy”. So for example, make your goal to walk only once a week for 10 minutes. If you do walk more than once then that is a bonus, Achieving your very small goal will build your confidence and keep you motivated. This will ensure that you can stick to it, as it feels less overwhelming.
Tip 2) Attach a new habit to an old one. For example, if you want to drink more water, set your goal to drink a glass of water before your coffee/tea in the morning.
Tip 3) Be patient and remember you are creating a new neuropathway. It often takes more than 21 days to create a new habit. Once the pathway in your brain is wide, your new habit will become automatic and you won’t have to think about it anymore.
Take one small step at a time!