So as of this moment, as the post is up, there is just over 24 hours left until 2018. Happy New Year, everyone!
Anyone made any New Year’s resolutions yet? Maybe something like taking a walk every morning, or going to the gym daily, or learning something new etc? Most of you probably have something in mind.
Though, ever wondered how long it would take to actually make a habit out of your New Year’s resolutions? Something that’s part of your daily life?
How long does it take to make a habit?
Taking a quick look on Google, there are different numbers floating around on how long it takes to make a habit. 21, 18, 66 and even up to 254 days! (well, at least it’s not 365, right?)
The 21 days number came from Maxwell Maltz‘s studies which was later published in his book, Psycho-Cybernetics, A New Way to Get More Living Out of Life. It’s based on his studies where a patient who had their arm or leg amputated would sense a phantom limb for about 21 days before they get used to it. Based on further observations, he surmised, “These, and many other commonly observed phenomena tend to show that it requires a minimum of about 21 days for an old mental image to dissolve and a new one to jell.”
The 66 days number comes from a study conducted by Phillippa Lally, a health psychology researcher at University College London. The study is published in the European Journal of Social Psychology. Based on this, the number of days depends on the person, which behavior we want to make as a habit, and a lot of other factors. So the days may vary from 18 days all the way up to 254 days (just over 8 months).
So, what’s the right answer for this?
The truth is, how long it takes is a bit more complicated than just a single number.
We can say it takes that these many days, but it’s not like do anything for 20 days and on the 21st day, BOOM, you now have a habit. It doesn’t make much sense to assume a specific number since this number changes from person and person and from activity to activity.
So what do we do?
Simple, actually. Forget about the numbers and do these instead.
How to get started on making your habit
1. DON’T focus on Goals
Yeah, this sounds counter-intuitive, right?
When we want to make a habit, what are our goals usually? Start exercising everyday and lose 10 pounds, finish your 1000 page novel, put in a lot of work and get that promotion you’ve been eyeing etc.
But what if that is our only goal? Whatever we do in the journey to that goal is just that, stepping-stones to our destination at the end of the road, nothing more. Each step we’re taking isn’t anything special in itself and they only become worthwhile once we reach our “goal”, if we ever reach it.
The problem with this approach?
You don’t really get to enjoy the journey. The goal is all we’re looking at or all we care about. Essentially, you’re stressed/worried for 99% of the journey and happy 1% of the time when we actually reach where we wanted to. So most people, seeing how much they’re unhappy 99% of the time, they give up on the journey to their habits/New Year’s resolution.
If your goal was to lose 10 pounds, not seeing that decrease after a few weeks is a huge downer. All of this negativity accumulates each day you don’t reach your goal and, eventually, you just give up to avoid that feelings completely.
That 1% of happiness just isn’t worth it.
So try doing this instead:
2. Focus on Systems
There are some great videos on YouTube on why “Systems” are much better than “Goals”. Articles on this will be linked at the end of the page.
Essentially, what you do is break up your main goal/habit into smaller goals and focus on each every day.
For example, say you wanted to finish your 1000 page novel. Don’t focus on the number 1000. Set up smaller goals like finishing 5 pages every day.
Each day that you write those 5 pages, that is a goal achieved. You immediately get that sense of gratification that you achieved something.
Keep doing this, and eventually you’ll reach your 1000 pages but unlike in the first case where you didn’t enjoy the journey, you actually will here!
This is the same for any habit you want to join with your daily life. Break your goal into smaller chunks and keep at each chunk every day no matter what. Before you know it, it subconsciously becomes your habit.
3. Have an App for Reminders and Goal-Setting
There are many great apps for both Android and iOS that’s built for helping you keep track of your activities for each day.
Listing some of the best in this category below:
There are also web applications that work on your desktop. In case you’re more comfortable with your desk computer rather than your mobile device.
Though, if you can handle yourself, you don’t need apps or any other applications to help you keep on track.
You just need some good old-fashioned disapproval!
4. Be Accountable to Others
Some of us find it immensely hard to stick to a particular goal unless we have someone who would be very disappointed in us if we don’t do it. (why does this sound like the description of my Mom…)
Let’s say, your resolution is to take a walk every morning. Get a friend or family member to take it with you. Each time you’re either not able to show up or you’re late for any reason, imagine your walking partner would be either angry at you or disappointed in you. So you’re immediately motivated to prove them wrong. You make it your mission to make them think good of you.
Disappointing others is like Kryptonite for some people. If you’re one of them, use this to your advantage to help you stick to your goals.
Oh, and don’t forget to thank your disappoint-er for being your source of inspiration!
5. Try to have a Clear Reason for sticking to your Goals
While some need external influence, others need to reason with themselves.
You might have a grand plan and a huge goal to reach before the end of the year. But do you know why you want to do it? Why is reaching it important to you? How would it help you? What other benefits would you get if you do it? Will it be useful to others as well?
When you have clear answers to these questions, you know why it’s important to make it a habit. You aren’t just doing it for the heck of it. You know exactly what you’re gaining and how much it is going to change your life.
When you know this, it almost becomes impossible for you to skimp out on what you know you need to do.
6. Set your Goals based on how Important it is to You
Before making the commitment to stick to your goals, you first have to choose your goals, right?
Do not arbitrarily choose your New Year’s resolution/other goals.
Like having the mentality that since your friend is doing it, you should also do it.
If your aim was to lose 10 pounds, does losing it would actually make you happy? Does it make sense for you?
Only if you can answer these, should you choose them as your habits-to-be. Don’t do it because others are doing it. Do it because you know a few months from now, it is going to change your life.
7. Stick to it everyday without keeping a Count
So we talked about many so called number of days we need to make something a habit.
Don’t worry about it. You don’t have to set a particular timeframe when you’re aiming to make a habit.
Just stick to your activities or to-do list to be done every day and forget about how many days have passed or how many days are left.
Eventually, before you’ve even realized, it’s already a part of your life.
So do you want to make a Habit?
If you’ve reached here, you should now know why expecting a fixed magic number is meaningless. At the end of the day, how long it takes to make a habit doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. It might take days or even weeks. But just keep doing the activities constantly and use any number of influences to help you stick to it no matter what.
And eventually, with enough time and self-resolve, it becomes a part of your life aka your habit.
No matter how long it may take, what will always be worth it is the realization that you’ve achieved what you set out to do.
And there is no feeling in the world that can replace it.
Share your experiences and feedback with firstname.lastname@example.org. This’ll really be worthwhile knowing if you guys could take something out of this.
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