Learn how to develop a habit and make it stick. We all know that old habits are hard to break, but certain times call for these measures. While most of us are waiting for a miracle fix, it’s best to change the way we deal with our wellness. In our modern society, we often see patterns of poor lifestyle choices that end up affecting the way we look and feel.
A considerable challenge for any doctor, nutritionist, or coach is to change a patient’s bad habit and help them develop a habit that is beneficial to their health. Many American adults tend to make resolutions to live a better life but few can keep their commitment. Nonetheless, it shouldn’t always be that hard.
Whether you’re looking to lose weight, eat more nutritious foods, or improve your overall heath, if you are open to change, resolutions can become real. But it does take a lot of hard work. First, let’s talk about the science behind developing habits.
How long does it take to develop a habit?
The Maxwell Maltz theory
The most popular answer to this question is 21 days. However, it will, of course, vary from one individual to another. Anywhere between a week and a year can be considered the amount of time needed to develop a habit.
But let’s talk more about the crucial 21 days needed to create a new habit. The theory was postulated by Maxwell Maltz, a plastic surgeon who noticed a pattern among his patients back in the ‘50s. Dr. Maltz observed how his patients would take about 21 days to get accustomed to their new appearance. Whether it was plastic surgery or the case of an amputated limb, the surgeon came to the realization that in all instances, it would take an average 21 days for all individual to adjust to the new situation.
Moving forward in his research, Maxwell Maltz started studying his own behavior. He found that his own transition period to new habits would take about 21 days as well.
In 1960, the surgeon published a book called “Psycho-Cybernetics”. The self-help book went to become a best-seller, with over 30 million copies sold. In the following decades, Maltz’s research influenced most self-help professionals, including Brian Tracy, Zig Ziglar, and Tony Robbins.
Phillippa Lally’s research
Philippa Lally, a health psychology researcher, decided to make her own investigation to find out exactly how long it takes to develop a habit.
Lally, who works at University College London, and her research team studied the habits of 96 individuals over a period of 12 weeks. To investigate the process of forming a behavior, the volunteers had to choose an eating, drinking, or an activity. Each behavior had to be carried out daily and in the same context.
Some habits were easier, such as drinking water in a specific moment, while others were more difficult, such as going for a jog for 15 minutes. At the end of the 12-week period, the team of researchers analyzed the data to figure out how long it takes to develop a habit.
Their research, called “How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world”, shows how it takes more than two months to form a new automatic behavior. To be more precise, 66 days seems to be the exact figure. However, this period varies widely depending on the person and the circumstances.
Philippa Lally revealed that a more realistic approach to the matter is to consider a time frame of 18 to 254 days for humans to develop a habit. Furthermore, the study also showed that it is OK to miss a few opportunities to perform the new behavior. This means that even if we fail to complete certain tasks every now and then, the overall process is not disrupted.
10 Tips on How to Develop a Healthy Habit
1. Analyze your health
The aim is not to have you worried about the state of your health, but to open your eyes to the needs of your body. Run some tests and gather basic information such as blood pressure, lipid levels, and cholesterol levels. It’s also good to know your family history, body mass index (BMI), and to self-assess your stress level.
Knowing all this can act as a motivator to pursue goals such as upgrading your health. And what better way to improve your wellness and to prevent disease than to read research studies. Get informed about the risks involving poor lifestyle choices and you will see how much you can gain by giving up bad habits.
2. Set small goals
Wanting to start big may sound exciting but there are fewer chances it will lead to success. It’s better to set a small goal and work your way from there. For example, rather than changing your diet in just one day, start by replacing unhealthy snacks with fruits or raw veggies. Consequently, pushing yourself to go out running for an hour each day if you are not an active person will most likely lead to you giving up that activity. Instead, go on 15-minutes walks and increase the time and the pace as the days pass.
3. Choose the best time of day
Some people are early birds while others are night owls. But you’ll most likely notice that everyone’s willpower is higher in the morning. Whether you plan on working out or meditate, do it before going to work. Take advantage of the increased energy level and the lack of stress and tiredness that most people accumulate at the end of the workday.
4. Learn the benefits
Get yourself familiarized with the pros that come with the change. Read books or go online and research the benefits of that particular good behavior you are trying to obtain. Monitor your progress and observe how you are improving yourself with each step you make. It’s a good way to keep yourself going and stick to that habit.
5. Set priorities
Setting priorities is crucial in both developing a habit and pursuing other goals. The general rule is to make a list of the things you are trying to accomplish. In your case, developing a new behavior. Write your goals down. Then, create a different list of personal strengths and weaknesses.
Manage your list of priorities according to what you can accomplish and their importance. Be realistic about what you can achieve at the moment.
6. Take care of your needs
You may notice that as you begin the change, some things in your life are lost. It’s completely normal, but make sure you find a replacement for the needs you end up losing. Otherwise, you will just end up giving into other bad habits because your necessities are not met. For example, if you used to smoke as a way to relax after a hard task, find other ways to unwind. You can take a walk around the office building, meditate, or even read for a few minutes during a break.
7. Remove temptation
Create a “septic” environment where you can’t find the things that used to tempt you into performing bad behaviors. If you are trying to change your diet, then it’s quite easy. Remove all junk food from your home and hit the market to buy some fresh products. Planning to quit smoking? Throw out the cigarettes and don’t look back. Are you spending too much time on the web or watching television. cancel your subscription, and go outside for a walk or take up reading.
8. Have a buddy join in
Get a buddy to join you in pursuing a goal. It is a good way to keep you motivated. Having a friend along on your journey will not only help you develop a habit faster, but they will also provide you moral support from someone who goes through the same thing that you are.
9. Allow yourself imperfection
As Philippa Lally’s research showed, a miss every now and then is acceptable. Don’t expect every attempt at developing a habit to turn into a success. It may take a few tries until you succeed. Try your best to be persistent, but don’t beat yourself if you encounter a few bumps along the way.
10. NLP Swish Pattern
This new neuro-linguistic programming technique has been proven to help people change an unwanted behavior. Compulsive or obsessive behaviors such as nail-biting, smoking, or eating certain foods, are often related to a trigger.
First, you need to visualize the habit you wish to change and the trigger/cue image that gets it going. Then generate a picture of a new, healthy habit that may satisfy your needs. Assess the impact that the new behavior can have on yourself, and what you will have to give up to embrace it. Afterward, you must identify a few ways you can reduce your desire to perform the unwanted behavior and how to increase the passion to develop a habit that will benefit you in the long run.
For example, imagine you are putting down the cigarette, then visualize yourself meditating or running. You must perform these steps a few times so that it becomes a pattern. Before executing the unwanted habit, you will see how your mind will automatically drift to that image of a better you. And that’s how change begins.