The New Year brings a fresh start and many of us will have made New Year’s resolutions with the best intentions. It’s tempting to want to change everything at once and not many of us will have stuck with them by the time February has arrived. A study from 2009 shows that on average, it takes over two months before a new behaviour becomes automatic — 66 days to be exact! For more complex habits to take hold, it can take up to 254 days! How long a new habit takes to form can vary widely depending on the behaviour, the person, and the circumstances.
When we decide on a new routine, most of us rely on sticking to it consistently over a few days or weeks for motivation. This is known as a habit streak and while they can help at first to get us started, once we miss a day it can start to feel like it all falls apart and the struggle to get back on track can put us off entirely. As part of the study in 2009, the researchers found that missing an opportunity to perform the new behaviour did not have a significant impact on the habit formation process. This means that if you have forgotten or skipped a few days, you will still successfully build the new habit as it’s mainly about consistency.
Here are my top tips on how to establish healthy, long-term habits.
Pick habits you want to do.
Make sure you are motivated to make the change. If we know we are going to hate every day before starting, we are immediately at a disadvantage. Lean into the changes you actually want, not those that sound good but you don’t actually want to accomplish.
Make habits achievable.
They should be easy to complete and not completely unattainable so that even on a bad day it’s not hard to get done. If you’re struggling to make them stick, instead of “Read for 30 minutes” go with “read one paragraph” or maybe even “open a book.” You want it to seem silly to not do the habit, that’s how you can help make it stick and become routine.
Make flexible habits.
We can become too rigid in what we want to achieve and this can lead to a lack of motivation. Aim for 30 minutes of movement a day instead of over-challenging yourself with 30 minutes of high-intensity exercise such as running. This means that any form of movement counts towards your goal; just going for a walk or doing some stretches at home counts!
Use habit stacking.
This is the idea of connecting a new habit with an existing one. For example, if you regularly brush your teeth before bed, you can make a habit “after I brush my teeth, I will floss.” Even better, put the floss next to your toothbrush so you get an extra context clue.
No matter how well we plan, creating new habits may take much longer than we expect, but this should not dissuade us. Forming a great habit does not require rocket science; it requires commitment and dedication. Remember, you can only get to day 254 by starting on day one.
By Jessica Davy, Chiropractor