Like most everything, there are good and bad habits. There’re a lot of habits we all (hopefully) have, like brushing our teeth, washing our hands, exercising (…maybe not that one). And I’m certain there’re habits we all wish we had like going to bed earlier every night, walking every day or being more productive at work. Forming new habits can be helpful when you can identify an action that you want to become automatic and/or something you think about or remind yourself to do frequently, like brushing your teeth. The following are some tips for how you can form a new habit this year.
Be in it for the long haul
There’s a myth floating around that it only take 21 days to form a habit. This number is based off of purely observational research from a doctor who practiced in the 1950s, yet for some reason this myth still haunts us today. According to the Huffington Post, more recent research shows that it actually takes people anywhere from two months to eight months to form a habit with the average person forming a habit in about 66 days.
Although those numbers may sound daunting it’s actually good news! For starters, another theory associated with the 21 day myth is that if you miss one day of practicing your new habit you have to completely start over. This could not be further from the truth! The study posted by the Huffington Post specifically stated that forgetting to perform your new habit a few times during the habit forming period had not measureable impact on whether the habit stuck or not, so do not be discouraged if you forget about your new habit once or twice at first.
Don’t confuse habits and goals
It’s important to make sure that the habits you’re setting out to form are actually habits, and it can be easy to confuse habits with goals. Habits can be defined as a settled or regular tendency or practice while a goal is defined as an aim or desired result. Make no mistake, habits can certainly be useful tools in achieving a goal, but if you mistakenly set a goal as your habit you will quickly find yourself discouraged and too disappointed to make any change to your life
For example, brushing your teeth is a habit and the overarching goal of that habit is to promote good oral hygiene. It would be silly to try and get into the “habit” of promoting good oral hygiene because where would you even begin? Similarly, if you try to get into the “habit” of being more productive at work you’ll most likely fail because this is just too broad of a topic to make a habit. However, if being more productive at work is a goal you have for this year you could certainly get into the habit of answering every email you get within 30 minutes, or starting projects the day they are assigned. By creating these smaller, more tangible actions you will most certainly find more success in the formation of a new habit.
Bottom line, if you’re trying to form a new habit don’t be discouraged if it takes you longer than 21 or 30 days to complete because that’s less than half of the time of the actual average! And, make sure that your habit is actually a habit so that you will be more likely to achieve it.