What is a Habit?
Habits, by definition, are an acquired mode of behavior that has become nearly or completely involuntary. We all have them. In fact, research shows that more than 40 percent of actions we perform each day aren’t actual conscious decisions, but habits!
Every habits starts with what’s called the “habit loop”. It has 3 parts - a cue or trigger, the routine, and the reward. The cue is what tells your brain to transfer to autopilot where the behavior unfolds. For example, your alarm might be your cue or the trigger to get out of bed and walk to the kitchen. The routine is the behavior, the actually habit. It’s getting to the kitchen and turning on the coffee machine first thing. The reward is what your brain likes that helps it jump into the habit loop again. In this case, it’s that delicious cup of coffee that wakes you up and ushers you into consciousness and the day ahead.
How Long Does it Take to Make or Break a Habit?
For decades, we’ve believed that it took 21 days to form a new habit, without much scientific research to back up the claim. In a study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, a research team at the University London College found that, on average, it takes more than 2 months before a new behavior becomes automatic — 66 days to be exact. And how long it actually takes a new habit to form can vary depending on the person, the behavior they are trying to change or create, and the circumstances.
This might sound discouraging, but at the end of the day, cultivating a new habit requires work regardless of the time it takes to become automatic. So take one step and day at a time, at a time, one day at a time, and commit to the road ahead.
5 Simple Steps to Create the Habit You Desire
Two (or more) months of work to create a habit might sound discouraging, especially if you have believed that 21 days was all it took. But don’t get discouraged! Cultivating a new habit requires work regardless of the amount of time it takes to become automatic. Commit to taking one step and day at a time, and try one or more of these ideas to support you on creating the habit you want.
- Make a Decision: Develop clarity on what you value, your strengths and weaknesses and where it is you want to go. When you have clear intentions and a strong purpose, you can easily identify the habit you want to cultivate. Once identified, write it down and place it somewhere really visible so it’s fresh in your mind everyday.
- Get Support From Family & Friends: Share the habit you’re working on with others so they can help and encourage you in making good decisions. You’re much less likely to make an exception or an excuse if you’re being held accountable by your loved ones. When you’ve accomplished a goal or hit a milestone, share the victory with them. Your actions can impact and inspire those around you to create healthy habits as well.
- Use visuals and positive affirmations: Visualizations and affirmations are incredibly powerful. The more you can visualize and see yourself behaving or performing in a certain way, the quicker the new behavior will be accepted by your subconscious and be automatic. Visualization is a great tool to adopt in the beginning because it helps motivate your goal and keeping your new habit top of mind. Working with affirmations while visualizing help create the right mindset for establishing a new habit.
- Reinforce good decisions: Give yourself a reward for practicing the new behavior. Each time you honor your positive habit, you reaffirm and reinforce the positive behavior. At an unconscious level, you’re starting to associate the gratification of the reward with the behavior. Choose your rewards wisely and make sure they are in alignment with your new habit. A few ideas include treating yourself to a new book, a massage, a healthy juice, a dinner out with your girlfriends or going to a movie.
- Think about the big picture - When you have an important goal in mind (in this case, an important habit to cultivate), it’s easy to get heads down laser focused on accomplishing it. But it’s equally important to look up and examine how things are going. Ask yourself a lofty questions like “what will my life look like when my goal is fully manifested?” Or write out your perfect day and include your good habit. When a challenge appears that wants to break down your hard work (and we know it will) you’ll need a strong vision of what you want to achieve in order to succeed.