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How to Form a Habit

GreenCare recently shared a Clean Commuter & Wellness Challenge story about Judy, a recruitment associate from VCH. Her message: small steps are all you need to create a healthy habit. This message resonated with us and inspired us to dig a little deeper to find out the best way to create new habits, and how long it takes for them to become part of your daily routine.

How long do I need?

We’ve all heard the slogans: “21 days to that bikini body,” “40 day yoga challenge,” “21 days of clean eating.” Influenced by Dr. Maxwell Maltz’s work in the 1950s, which determined that 21 days is the minimum time people needed to become accustomed to change, society has collectively decided that 3 – 6 weeks is all you need to form a new habit. It seems short enough to be attainable but long enough to actually seem believable. But is this actually true?

According to a recent study, published in the European Journal of Social Psychology by Phillippa Lally, a health psychology researcher at University College London, the length of time it takes for a new habit to form can vary widely depending on the behavior, the person, and the circumstances.

The study examined the habits of 96 people over a 12-week period. Each person chose one new habit for the 12 weeks and reported each day on whether or not they did the behavior and how automatic the behavior felt. On average, it takes more than 2 months before a new behavior becomes automatic — 66 days to be exact. And in Lally’s study, it took anywhere from 18 days to 254 days for people to form a new habit.

Yet, the short timeframe fads still seem appealing. We all want to feel like we are making headway on a goal and that we can better an aspect of our lives in a simple, step-by-step way. Is that what makes them so appealing? For many people, they find the accountability that comes along with some of these programs to be the biggest motivator to stick with it.

Helpful Articles and Resources

James Clear, a writer on habits and behavioural psychology outlines three reasons why taking longer to form a habit is something to get excited about.

  • First, there is no reason to get down on yourself if you try something for a few weeks and it doesn’t become a habit. It’s supposed to take longer than that! There is no need to judge yourself if you can’t master a behavior in 21 short days.
  • Second, you don’t have to be perfect. Making a mistake once or twice has no measurable impact on your long-term habits. Give yourself permission to make mistakes and develop strategies for getting back on track.
  • And third, embracing longer timelines can help us realize that habits are a process and not an event. All of the “21 Days” hype can make it really easy to think, “Oh, I’ll just do this and it’ll be done.” But habits never work that way. You have to embrace the process.

Still, if you are someone who enjoys simple, step-by-step guides, Lifehack has an easy to digest list of tricks to make new habits stick. Try one, or all of them here.

On the flip side, Ryan M. Niemiec, Psy.D., a psychologist, certified coach, author, and workshop leader outlines how to break bad habits through mindfulness. By using an exercise called Mindfulness, you pick something you are struggling with or bothered by and that you do each day. Then, you consider one way you will bring greater mindfulness to the habit and one way you will use one of your own strengths to combat it. For example, if you have a tendency to overeat and snack on high-calorie foods at night, you would apply the mindfulness of mindful eating. If one of your personal strengths is curiosity, you would use your curiosity to explore your inner experience while you eat, to understand why this is a habit. This will help you take better control of the bad habit and work to form new and better ones.

Still Need Some Accountability?

Here is a round up our favourite lifestyle apps to get your started on your journey.

  • My Fitness Pal – Track your healthy diet and stay committed to your wellness goals.
  • FitBit – The trendiest technology for tracking your heartrate, footsteps and workout goals.
  • Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock – Trying to get a better night sleep? This app tracks your sleep cycle and wakes you in the gentlest way at the right time.
  • Mint – Want to get a handle on your finances? Mint app can help you out with tracking your accounts and bills all in one place.
  • Headspace Meditation – Need some help reaching a mindfulness space? This app helps you on your meditation journey.

Forming habits takes time and patience. There is no quick fix that will magically form a habit. But don’t get discouraged! As Judy said, small steps make all the difference.

Let us know how you stay motivated in the comments below!