I’ve heard it said many times that creating a new habit takes 21 days. In fact, a couple of years ago I read Crystal Paine’s 21 Days to a More Disciplined Life and the 21-day thing worked for me, as long as I didn’t try to take on too much at one time.
But what about forming bad habits? How long does that take? Well, unfortunately, not nearly as long. I love Doc Martin. It’s my downtime tv show of choice. There’s nothing wrong with the show. No bad language. No nudity or anything crazy. But the doctor does have a bit of an attitude problem. He frequently tells people to stop talking and shushes them.
Sometimes, after I’ve watched a couple episodes, I’ll catch myself shushing the children or telling them to stop talking. Goodness! I have to immediately apologize to them and rebuke myself. It’s nuts how quickly (and inadvertently) we can pick up 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 it is your habit 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.
When we ask that question, what we really want to know is how long do we have to tough it out before it gets easier. Am I right? 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 a lot harder to give up checking your email every 2 minutes or snacking late at night. 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 when you would usually reach for your cup of Joe. Of course, I would never give up coffee, but you get the idea.
Habits will form faster if you stick to the same time and environment each day. Instead of going for a walk whenever, keep your sneakers next to the door and schedule your walk every day at 6 pm, right after dinner for example.
A constant reminder of why you’re trying to change your behavior is also helpful. Remind yourself every day that you’re exercising so your body stays strong and you can go play with the kids or grandkids in the yard. Or put up a picture to remind you that you’re making frugal habits so you can one day purchase your dream home. Keep your reason why you’re changing front and center and then be prepared to stick it out. Yes, it will take some time to make new habits and replace old ones. But it will be well worth it in the end.