How Many Days to Create a Positive Habit – Movember Series
A word to the wise:
Making new habits can be super tough! Depending on the amount of time and effort involved it can seem almost impossible. When it comes to bad habits in particular, we often feel trapped and unable to break the cycle. Just like any other self improvement, what is needed to create or break habits is dedication, effort and consistency. So, how long does it take to make or break a habit?
I have added this article to the Movember Series because a big part of Movember, in my opinion, is changing habits to become healthier. A lot of health issues that affect men and woman are caused by an unhealthy lifestyle. I am not saying that with good habits you can avoid something like prostate cancer, but I would argue that a health lifestyle with regular check-ups with a doctor can lower the risk of it getting to a life-threatening stage.
What makes positive habits important is that they are connected to our mental health. One of the big topics Movember is trying to raise awareness about is mental health issues. Let me be clear, I am not a doctor or therapist, but the connection between habits and mental health is a widely researched topic with definitive connections. Working out regularly can have a significant impact on reducing your stress levels, angry issues, anxiety and other mental states. Meditation has been shown to have great benefits with anxiety, self-control, depression and etc… Having a regular daily routine can make you feel more in control of your life. Even something as small as making your bed each morning can give you a small win in the morning that carries on throughout the rest of your day.
So how to we harness the power of these exercises? We create positive habits that give us benefits in our daily life.
What is a habit?
A habit is a behavioural pattern done repetitively either consciously or unconsciously. It can be a good habit, such as having a healthy diet. Or, it can be a bad habit, such as a smoking/drug addiction.
Some habits we do every day without even noticing ourselves following the pattern. It could be something like looking both ways before crossing the street or waking up early on a weekend because we habitually wake up early for work during the week. These habits for the most part can be harmless. They are simply how we interact with the world around us on a regular basis without thought or consequence.
Other habits require a more active mentality to control. Notice that I said control. It is a common belief, for people with bad habits, that our habits control us. For example, a smoker will blame the nicotine for their smoking habits. Others will complain that their long work hours make going to the gym impossible.
However, people with successful and positive habits are able to recognize that they are in control of their habits and with positive habits comes positive results. For example, someone who habitually goes to the gym to workout actively makes the time to work out. That habit alone and sequentially results in positive eating habits and sleep habits. By taking control of their behaviour and free time, this person is taking control of their habits.
How many days to create a positive habit:
In a previous article, I argued “Why the Perfect Day is Better Than a 31-day Challenge.” The main reason being that if you do not already have an established habit, the 31-day challenge results in most people failing the challenge and discouraging them from continuing.
I do believe that a 31-day challenge can be a benefit to someone who has an already established habit and is looking for a way to either spice things up a bit or break a plateau they have reach in their regular routine.
Unfortunately, the reason people often look to 31-day challenges is because they are looking to start a new habit.
“I’m going to start a new 31-day workout to get abs!”
“I’m not going to start a 31-day no smoking challenge.”
“I’m going to eat good food for 31-days straight!”
These are goals with good intention, but unfortunately, they do not work as often as we like them to. So, how many days to create a positive habit?
Plastic surgeon and Author Maxwell Maltz published a book called Psycho-Cybernetics in 1989. In this book he stated that it takes “a minimum of about 21 days” to create a habit. Throughout the years, this was copy and pasted so many times that it quickly became “21 days to create a new habit”. The 21-day rule of thumb is actually a bit of a myth and is the minimum requirement.
Luckily for us, some smart people out there did a study to find the answer so we didn’t have to! Phillippa Lally, a Health Psychology Researcher at University College London, did a study of 96 people over the course of a 12-week period. The results were that the average person needs approximately 2 months (66 days) of activity working on a habit before it becomes automatic (without resistance).
So, for everyone looking to make new habits and change their overall lifestyle, aim to activity work on a habit for 2 months. Once 2 months is up, the habits will start to become much easier and have less resistance. Instead of craving junk food, your body will be expecting healthy eats. Instead of skipping the gym to watch tv, you will be packing your gym back without a second thought!
What is one healthy habit you’ve always wanted to add to your life? What is one unhealthy habit that you’ve always wanted to removed from your life?