How Long to a New Habit?
I don’t know about you, but when ‘the experts’ (whoever they are!) say that it takes 21 days to create a new habit, I’m not impressed.
Because I’m an “I want it now!” kind of girl.
Why can’t I just flick a switch and change things around?
How come there’s all this freakin’ hard work to be done?
Who needs good habits anyway?
Really, with that kind of mindset I sound like a two-year-old having a tantrum and that’s pretty much how I behaved throughout a large portion of my early life--and I’m not talking my childhood here--I’m talking about having a mutual tantrum society with my own kids.
I had to learn patience.
Some days I hated that word.
Patience: the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, problems, or suffering without becoming annoyed or anxious.
That wasn’t me.
But it didn’t take me too long to work out after I put the mind altering substances down and starting (trying) to act like an adult that an awful lot of adulting involved patience.
So, with this new information on board, I set about beginning the arduous task of creating new habits.
I was also determined that I would prove the “experts” wrong and have all my new habits in place in about seven days.
I laugh now--but there wasn’t much laughing going on at the time.
“I’m being good…” I’d wail, behaving like that two-year-old all over again, “why aren’t I getting the results I want?”
“Because it takes time…” I’d be told over and over and freaking over again and, “God doesn’t give you lollies just because you’re being good.” Can I tell you how much I hated that statement every time it was said to me?
Now I was sober, I had a lot of time on my hands--but we can leave how to fill your time in for another blog post!
That’s kind of a weird idea though, isn’t it? When you think about it, It doesn’t take an awful long time to form a bad habit--so why should it take so long to form a new habit?
And there’s a post for another day as well :-)
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 already doing. If you’re eating half a block of chocolate a night and you decide that you’re going to ‘get healthy’ and replace that chocolate with a carob bar, it’s likely that change won’t be too difficult for you. If, on the other hand, you decide that you’re giving up chocolate all together… Well, that’s probably another matter. Making that choice is likely to take a little longer than the first option.
When we ask the “how long” question, what we’re really asking is how long do we have to “struggle” before things get easier. When’s the hurting going to stop? Or, in other words, when does this new behavior become automatic?
While it’s always going to be different from one person to another and even different between habits, there are a few things that you can keep in mind.
It’s easier to make a new habit than give up an old one--trust me on this. Giving up drinking alcohol was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life--but also one of the most worthwhile.
Another option is to try to replace an old habit with a new one. It was easier for me to give up my gummy bear habit when I replaced them with a couple of dried dates after dinner. Just don’t ask me to give up eating a couple of dates after dinner, okay?
New habits will form faster if you stick to the same time and place each day where you practice the behaviour that you’re trying to modify. Instead of going for a walk when you feel like it, keep your shoes by the door and plan your walk every day just before your mealtime. I find that walking is a great way to wind down from a stressful day and transition into ‘home’ time. I also have a dog. He keeps me right on schedule!
A constant reminder of why you’re trying to change your behavior can be useful too. Remind yourself every day that you’re exercising and eating well so that your body stays strong and your mind stays clear. That way you’re better able to help other, keep up with your gardening, or run around after your young children (or grandchildren).
I’m a great believer in the reward system. I’m a carrot girl, not a stick girl!
Make yourself a dream board, or create a pinterest board of all the things you’re going to use to reward yourself. This system is especially helpful if you’re trying to save money--or eat out less--or give up a detrimental habit that’s costing you a lot of cash. Do you have any idea how much money I saved when I stopped buying a bottle of vodka every day?
Keep your reason why you’re changing your habit at the front of your mind and you’ll be more likely to stick it out until that habit comes automatically.
Yes, I learned in the end that it does take some time to make new habits and replace old ones, but God did give me those lollies in the end.