How long does it take for a new behaviour to become a habit, or a regular part of your life?
This is something that comes up all the time among health and fitness research, especially around resolution time. Professionally, when we’re trying to get people to change their behaviours, we plan challenges for certain lengths of time to help cement the habit into participant’s lives. In order to do so, there has to be a theoretical basis to guide it… so that means there’s a magic number right?
Well… not quite. While the common saying is that it takes 21 days to form a new habit, research is proving that to be less than true. Considering the fact that some habits are much more complicated and involved than others, it can’t be expected for everything to take the same length of time to be adapted into your life seamlessly.
One study found it can take an average of 66 days to form a new habit. BUT, in the study it took participants anywhere from 18 – 254 days for their new habits to stick! The variation in time can be attributed to the type of habit as well as the individual themselves, in terms of how much effort they put forth.
The take-home message for you – don’t beat yourself up if your habits aren’t sticking as quickly or easily as you hoped. Hang in there and stay with it, especially if your resolution is tougher to tackle. Things such as “drink a glass of water after each meal” will be assimilated faster than “run for 30 minutes every other day”. Be realistic with how detailed your habit is and understand it may take longer than you thought to transition into your daily life.
Also, don’t let a mistake or two throw you off track. In the big picture, one missed session, one day off track, or one indulgence isn’t ruining anything. It won’t set you back to Day One of your progress, either. The important lesson is that you can get back on track after it happens – showing that it has started to become part of your daily life! Congrats!
It’s taken you all these years to form your current habits. Cut yourself some slack when trying to bring something new into your life. To make it a little easier, or successful, break things down into smaller parts to focus on. Rather than saying you want to drink 4 L of water a day, make it a goal to have a glass of water with every meal. This is easier to monitor and complete over the course of a day.
Helpful hint – create a cue to remind you of your habit. Simply keeping a glass of water by your sink, or on your desk, can easily remind you to drink water frequently.
So, with 8 days in the books for 2015, have you managed to stick to your resolution?