I’m the patron saint of good intentions. I have lots of ideas and plans, which tend to fall by the wayside. The reason: I haven’t got into good habits.
It’s easy to stick to bad habits and harder to take on new behaviours. Our brain has learnt patterns and likes to stick with what it knows.
The good news is, there is a process to all this. We can form new habits.
How do we form habits?
A habit is a type of behaviour we do on autopilot without needing to think. They are created through repeat behaviours until they become second nature.
Habit breaking is hard, purely because we’re not always aware of them.
To create a new habit instead of the old one, we need to repeat the same behaviour over and over again. We need to be consistent and create a setting to act as a behaviour cue. Once the behaviour pattern becomes ingrained in our brain, it will eventually become a habit.
However, it takes time.
The perceived wisdom was that it took 21 days to form a new habit. The reality is more than three times that amount. Researchers looked at how long it took people to reach a limit of operating on autopilot when for performing an initially new behaviour. They found it takes an average of 66 days. Although, in the grand scheme of things this isn’t much compared with changing habits of a lifetime.
How to get started
- Set an intention – decide what habit you would like to break and replace it with. Or what new habit you would like to form. Create a clear vision in your mind and decide how you will know when you’ve achieved it.
- Make a commitment – write it down, tell other people and do any preparations you need to in advance.
- Start off small – learn how to form habits and then move on to bigger commitments.
- Create a context – train your brain into behaving a certain way by designing a scenario around it. Stick to it.
- Repeat, repeat, repeat.
- Celebrate small successes – congratulate yourself on creating new habits. It’s a great achievement and your brain will start to recognise the reward.