Conventional wisdom says that it takes 21 days to form a new habit.
Three weeks of doing ‘the right thing’ doesn’t seem that long, so why is it that after struggling and managing to cultivate a good habit for that long, we still can’t stick to it? Whether it’s following a healthier eating plan, getting to the gym more often, or even not reaching for the chocolate every time the craving hits, we just can’t seem to fulfil our good intentions.
Well, it turns out the 21-day time frame isn’t accurate. As research published in The European Journal of Social Psychology has shown, the average time to form a habit is actually 66 days. That means that if you have resolved to exercise or eat healthily, it’s only likely to stick if you do it daily from today until March 14.
DEGREE OF PLANNING
While some of you will be shaking your heads thinking “it’s just not worth the pain”, others will find these results as interesting as I do. After all, it’s much easier to achieve any sort of goal when you know what you’re up against. And if 66 days is what it takes, then 66 days is what it takes. Using this approach, many of my patients have started to sow the seeds of considerably healthier habits and thus lifestyles.
Let’s say you wanted to eat more salads and, to that end, decided you would eat salad with lunch. Then you would need to do that every day for 66 days – every single day. So it’s better to choose one or two daily goals rather than a broader “I want to be healthier and I’m going to exercise more”. You’re never going to achieve that without some firm targets in mind.
You see, performing the action for the first time requires some degree of planning. If you’re going to eat salad every day, you’ll need some veggies in your fridge that morning, so you have something to take to work with you.
Sometimes, you may be able to get away with coming up with the plans only moments before the action is performed; for instance, you may decide to choose a side salad with your meal when you go out for lunch. Either way, you need to start becoming more conscious of your actions, rather than just running on autopilot.
Only after the allotted 66 days, can you let go a little, as autopilot, or what psychologists call reaching a stage of ‘automacity’, will mean the new habit of salad has stuck, as opposed to the old habit of say, chips – exactly what you want. Best of luck!