The University College London found that it takes an individual approximately 66 days to replace or form a daily habit. This is much different than the expected 21 day myth.
Daily habits are incredibly important, because much of what we do on a daily basis is subconscious, and automatic. When is the last time you really had to THINK about how to brush your teeth, tie your shoe or drive a car. Our habits are the daily programs that run our lives.
So, are your daily habits helping you or harming you?
According to a study done in 2012, even an occasional “missed day,” did not severely impair the habit forming process. What this means is that after you’ve invested enough time (66 days), repetition and practice in successfully “installing” a good habit, you don’t have to be perfect to make it stick!
Why then, can it seem so hard to break our old bad habits, or form new habits, especially when it comes to our health?
First and foremost, it is quite rare to simply just stop a habit, whether it be negative or positive. Some exceptions to this might be a very traumatic event (such as a car crash) that causes you to immediately stop texting and driving, or a DUI may immediately cause a person to quit drinking.
However, most often, another habit or behavior must take the place of the former habit. This is why you will often see a person who stops smoking, suddenly begin to eat more or suddenly bite their nails.
This is due to the Habit Loop. The habit loop consists of 4 steps that all contribute to daily behaviors: cue, habit, reward and repeat.
This is the trigger that reminds you to perform a specific action. Some examples could be a location, an event, or even a time. For example, each time you walk into the front door after a long day of work and immediately head into the kitchen, (location) you grab something to eat. The cue here is the location being your kitchen. The time of day might also be a cue that you associate with grabbing a snack, if you consistently get a snack at the same time every day.
This is the actual routine. In the example above, “grabbing something to eat,” is the habit. Whether you are hungry or not, this is a perfect example of mindless eating or eating because you are bored. Think about what you do immediately after waking up in the morning – maybe you immediately grab your phone and check your email or scroll social media. If you do this every day for a long enough period of time, you’ve just installed this as a daily habit.
The reward is the benefit you receive after the habit or action is taken. Going back to the example above of eating when you get home from work and head into your kitchen, your reward is food! Chewing food actually releases positive hormones in your brain to make you “feel good” after a meal.
Here is where the “loop” part comes in. Step 3, or the reward, is a positive reinforcement that prompts you to complete this action again and again when you are cued in step 1. The more times you repeat a certain behavior, it becomes part of your routine where you are doing it unconsciously and automatically.
It takes time to form habits, just like it takes time to replace them. Repetition can be your friend or your enemy. Keep this in mind as you look at the behaviors that you complete frequently (daily). Are they helping or harming?
HOW TO USE THIS TO YOUR ADVANTAGE
The 4 Laws of Behavior Change
Step 1: Identify
The first step to changing anything is to look at all of your daily habits, identify which habits are positive, neutral or negative, and list why. The easiest way to do this is to start from the time you wake up in the morning, and move throughout your day, looking at all of the things you do subconsciously out of habit. It could look something like this:
- Wake up 7AM (-) Rated a negative because waking up this late I’m always rushing to get to work ontime
- Go to the bathroom (=) Neither positive or negative
- Check social media (-) Rated negative because it’s a waste of time and makes me instantly compare to others
- Take vitamins (+)
- Work out (+)
Move throughout your day, rating the things you do consistently every day. You will likely see more patterns in the morning and evening, where the middle of your day could vary depending on your schedule or work tasks.
Step 2: Decide
The research suggests that we really only do things for two primary reasons:
- Avoid pain
- Seek pleasure.
Let’s say you really want to lose weight, but you really also love eating fattening and unhealthy foods. Your brain is in a quandary isn’t it? Which one is more important to you? At this point, you need to make a decision.
Think about all of the reasons it is painful to stay in your current situation, and get leverage on yourself. Do research about the effects of these foods on the body, listen to podcasts about health and fitness, and the benefits of healthy eating. After you’ve found enough evidence to really support your choice to change and motivate yourself into action, write down all of the benefits in changing….think about how confident you will feel, how much energy you will have, etc.
After you identify your habit you’d like to break, you can make the decision to change and to find a replacement action for your habit. This will benefit how you view your actions and choices long term. Remember you have the power to choose. True and lasting change comes down to changing your identity – The kind of person you want to be. Visualize the new you, and how this person thinks, acts and feels to make it real.
I am fit and healthy.
I am sober.
I am not a smoker.
Who do you want to be?
4 Laws of behavior change
Go through the different steps of the 4 laws of behavior change. If you want to build a good habit of exercising every day.
- Make it obvious — Lay your workout clothes, gym shoes, and headphones out right next to your bed the night before
- Make it attractive — Do an activity that you actually enjoy. If you love a particular class at the gym, or a specific trainer, make an appointment with that person
- Make it easy — Don’t do everything at once! Start small. Commit to doing a 5 minute walk every day for the first week. The second week maybe you do 10 minutes. Week Three you do 15 minutes. Week 4 you start going to the gym.
- Make it satisfying — Follow up the habit with some kind of reward. This could be enjoying your morning coffee ONLY after you’ve done your workout, or simply acknowledging how good you feel after exercising.
Stick with it.
Remember, it takes 66 days on average to cultivate new habits or break old habits. That is a long time, so be patient and kind to yourself but be consistent. Robin Sharma calls this Habit Installation Protocol.
Stage 1 [Destruction] This stage is all about undoing your current habits and beginning to replace them with something new. This is by far the most challenging phase of changing behavior.
Stage 2 [Installation] At this stage, you are rewiring new habits into your brain, but this is commonly a very messy time when you may be
tempted to slip back into the comfort of your old behaviors.
Stage 3 [Integration] In stage 3, things are getting easier, and the behavior is becoming a part of you to the point of “automaticity” – where it doesn’t require very much effort or thought, and has become a habit.