The truth about habits
Habits are actually the key to success when it comes to achieving and maintaining our lifestyle goals. We all know the dangers and health risks of bad habits, but learning how to maintain the good ones can prove extremely beneficial to our health.
How long does it take to form a habit?
21 days, right?
Now, I don’t blame you for answering that. The ‘21 day rule’ is an old wives tale for which you can blame Maxwell Maltz for. The belief that it takes 21 days to cement any habit into the subconscious was mistakenly carried into the 21st century because of Maltz’ studies on self image. Maxwell Maltz believed that it would take a patient who had some form of image altering surgery (cosmetic or medical), 21 days to get used to their altered self image. Thus, people believed it would take 21 days to form a habit and 90 days to make a permanent lifestyle change.
However, this has been proven not to be the case. According to a study by Phillippa Lally, where participants were tested on their ability to form new habits such as eating healthily or exercising, it took on average 66 days before a behaviour was recorded as automatic. For some it took less time and for others it took a painfully long 8 months to form new habits.
So one thing is for certain, it’s probably going to take longer than the month of January to break old habits or develop new ones- so how can we keep the momentum going through the new year?
So what we’ve already established is that forming habits is hard, so why on earth do we make things even harder for ourselves by setting multiple life changing goals and aspirations.
If life has taught us anything it’s that slow and steady wins the race. So when it comes to setting goals and new year’s resolutions, take things one step at a time. Think about a goal that will have positive consequences on multiple things. So, if you’d like to wake up earlier in the morning and eat healthier, don’t set both of those things as goals- choose one, and more often than not, one will have a positive effect on the other. If you wake up earlier, then you’ll have time to make a balanced and nutritious breakfast (and maybe even time for TEA+). On the other hand, if you maintain a healthier diet you may find yourself waking up earlier due to increased energy levels from a supportive diet.
Work out alternative ways to support your needs
Habits are often dictated by our wants and needs. If you really really wanted to stop doing something it’s probably going to be a heck of a lot easier to stop over something that secretly, deep down you're not so keen on quitting.
In order to break or form habits we need to see them as responses to needs. If something brings you comfort and relaxation then before you try to cut that habit out of your life, it’s important to find an alternative source of comfort and relaxation. This also works if you’re trying to form new habits- if you see something as a resolution to your needs, you’re more likely to stick with it. Let’s say you’re looking for something to relieve stress, exercise can be an outlet for this. Instead of seeing exercise as something to help weight loss or your fitness levels- visualise it as something supporting your need for stress relief.
A problem shared is a problem halved
No matter how much self control we believe to possess, we will always be influenced by the people we surround ourselves with. Our friends and family will always have an influence on the habits we have, the things we believe and the way we behave.
There is a difference between this and peer pressure. Peer pressure is something we actively choose to do to fit into a group even when we might not particularly want to. The way we are influenced by the people around us is more on a subconscious level.
Studies have shown that groups of friends can influence behaviours such as smoking, drinking, eating and exercising. One particular study has shown that eating with others who eat a lot may encourage us to eat more even though we have the physical signals that we are full.
A conversation with friends about the dangers of smoking had a more impactful consequence on the likelihood of someone smoking even though all the resources and information were available to them online.
Establishing a routine with a friend to form or break new habits increases the likelihood of success. You not only have the responsibility of being there for one another but the journey to success becomes fun!
So when you sit down to think about your new year's resolutions this year why not call a friend and see if they’ll join you on your mission to be a better you.