Over the last two years intentionally my wake up time has become earlier. I decided to take the most rested part of each day and keep it for myself. That has allowed me to write, workout, meditate and do other things I never seemed to be able to get to as consistently as I wanted. Going to bed a couple of hours of hours before what was my habit and getting up two hours earlier took some getting used to. The first six weeks it was very difficult and temporarily I gave up several times.
Conventional wisdom bantered about says it takes about a month to break a habit or instill a new one. Research indicates it takes longer. According to research about three years ago by Phillippa Lally and colleagues from the United Kingdom Cancer Research Health Behavior Research Centre it takes an average 66 days to form a new habit. Below Phillippa explains the key factors in creating and breaking habits and how we can help set up for ourselves new patterns of behavior.
What exactly takes 66 days?
In our study, we looked at how long it took people to reach a limit of self-reported automaticity for performing an initially new behavior (that is, performing an action automatically), and the average time (among those for whom our model was a good fit) was 66 days.
How do you define a habit?
Habits are behaviors which are performed automatically because they have been performed frequently in the past. This repetition creates a mental association between the situation (cue) and action (behavior) which means that when the cue is encountered the behavior is performed automatically. Automaticity has a number of components, one of which is lack of thought.
What are the key factors in breaking or gaining habits?
To create a habit you need to repeat the behavior in the same situation. It is important that something about the setting where you perform the behavior is consistent so that it can cue the behavior. If you choose a context cue, for example after lunch, we don’t think that it matters if you eat lunch at different times in the day. It is difficult to break any habit even when you are motivated to do so. If you are ambivalent about breaking it then you will be less likely to succeed.
What happens if we miss an opportunity to perform an action that will help us build a habit?
In our study we showed that missing one opportunity did not significantly impact the habit formation process, but people who were very inconsistent in performing the behavior did not succeed in making habits. We don’t have any evidence to suggest that men and women or young and old people acquire habits differently.
I am thankful for my new schedule and its benefits. I’m consistent at writing (have written this blog now daily for over 520 days in a row). From working out several days a week I’ve lost 12 pounds and about an inch and a half around my waist. The sense of personal pride and accomplishment is empowering.
We would accomplish many more things
if we did not think of them as impossible.