They say it takes 21 days to create a new habit. That’s kind of a weird idea though, isn’t it? It doesn’t take that long to form a bad habit. And sometimes no matter how hard we try it takes us a lot longer to form a new habit.
So how long does it really take to create a new habit? The answer is that it depends. It depends on your mindset and it depends on how big of a change it is from what you are doing now. If your habit is to eat a bowl of ice cream at night and you switch from regular ice cream to a low sugar frozen yogurt version, it’s probably not going to take you very long to make that new habit. Giving up ice cream altogether though or cutting out all sugar on the other hand might take a lot longer. Although, if you're faced with something like a medical decision that you must eliminate ice cream because you've learned you're lactose intolerant, you're more motivated to cut it out instantly and motivated to not do it again.
So, how quickly you'll be able to create or break a habit does depend on how motivated you are to achieve the new state.
When we ask that question about how long does it take to create a new habit, what we really want to know is how long do we have to tough it out before it gets easier. Is there a light at the end of the tunnel where we don’t have to try so hard anymore? In other words, when will this new behavior become automatic?
While it will be different from one person to the next and even from one habit to the next, there are a few things to keep in mind.
It’s easier to make a new habit than get
rid of an old one. Be prepared to work harder on habits like checking your
email every 2 minutes or snacking late at night. Habits like these can be harder to give up because they tend to be mindless things. They're also easy to do. You grab your phone any second you have without having to think about it. So, these ones will require you to be more conscious about how you spend your time. You'll have to break an automatic habit. Paying attention to what triggers the habit will help you to create a new habit as well. For example, if you're constantly checking your phone, ask yourself why? Is it because you're bored, are you afraid of missing something, are you anxious? What is the emotion behind the action of needing to check your email all the time.
Whenever possible, try to
replace an old habit with a new one. For example if you’re wanting to give up
coffee, brew a cup of herbal tea in the morning and throughout the day whenever you
would usually reach for the coffee. Or if you're giving up soda, try switching to carbonated water. See if the bubbles are enough to make your mind feel satisfied with the new habit.
Another tip to remember is that habits will form faster if you stick to the
same time and environment each day. Instead of going for a walk whenever you think about it, keep
your sneakers next to the door and schedule your walk every day at 6 pm, right
after dinner for example. Plan for the activity in your schedule and make it a commitment that you keep. This way it'll become something you do automatically like brushing your teeth in the morning. You won't think about it, you'll just do it.
One of the most valuable things you can do is have a constant reminder of why you’re trying to change your behavior. Remind yourself every day why you want to achieve this goal. What will your life be like when you have this habit firmly in place? How will it make your life better? Or put up a picture to constantly remind you of what you want to achieve. For example a picture of your dream home or a travel destination will help keep you on track with saving money so you can purchase your new place or the plane ticket even sooner than if you let yourself get distracted or lose motivation with your goal. Keep your reason why you’re changing front and center and then be prepared to stick it out.
The bottom line is that the stronger your motivation, the faster it will become a habit. Just like you could change overnight if your life depended on it (doctor says no more sugar or you'll have a heart attack), figuring out what the strongest reason is for changing the habit will make you more determined and more focused which will lead to faster results.
Yes it will take some time to make new habits and replace old ones. But it will be well worth it in the end.
Continue reading more about habits: How To Make Habits Stick.