They say it takes 21 days to create a new habit. That’s kind of a weird idea though, isn’t it? Some might think that it doesn’t take that long to form a bad habit. But there are some instances wherein no matter how hard we try, it takes us a lot longer to form a new habit.
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 doing now.
If it is your habit to eat a bowl of ice cream at night and you switch from regular ice cream to a low sugar frozen yogurt version, it’s probably not going to take you very long to make that new habit. Giving up ice cream altogether though or cutting out all sugar, on the other hand, might take a lot longer.
When we ask that question, what we really want to know is how long do we have to tough it out before it gets easier. Is there a light at the end of the tunnel where we don’t have to try so hard anymore? In other words, when will this new behavior become automatic?
While it will be different from one person to the next and even from one habit to the next, there are a few things to keep in mind.
It’s easier to make a new habit than to get rid of an old one. Be prepared to work a lot harder to give up checking your email every 2 minutes or snacking late at night. Whenever possible, try to replace an old habit with a new one.
For example, if you’re wanting to give up coffee, brew a cup of herbal tea in the morning and throughout the day when you would usually reach for your cup of Joe.
A constant reminder of why you’re trying to change your behavior is also helpful. Remind yourself every day that you are exercising so your body stays strong and you can go play with the kids or grandkids in the yard. Or put up a picture to remind you that you’re making frugal habits so you can one day purchase your dream home. Keep your reason why you’re changing front and center and then be prepared to stick it out.
Effective Steps to Creating New Habits
Now, onto building new habits.
We all have times in our lives where we intentionally want to change our behavior for the better and create new habits for ourselves. This could be getting in the habit of eating healthier and drinking more water. Or it could be moving more and taking the dog for a daily walk. Or it could be work-related, or spiritual, and a lot more.
There are so many areas in our lives that could be improved and made easier if we created new habits.
Getting into the habit of doing something is often easier said than done. We seem to acquire bad habits without any effort, but getting into a “good” habit can be a little more challenging.
Let’s break it down into these 9 simple steps that make it easy to follow until we’ve internalized the new behavior and made it a true habit – something we do automatically without having to think about… like brushing our teeth.
Decide What You Want To Do
The first step is to decide what you want that new habit to be. Be as specific as possible. Don’t just tell yourself you want to exercise more. Instead say something like “I will go for a 30-minute walk every single day”, or “I will do shoulder workouts every morning.”
Deciding what your new habit will be and committing to when and how you’re going to do it, is half the battle.
Remind Yourself To Get It Done
The next few days should be smooth sailing. You’re motivated and excited to get this done. Sticking to your new habit isn’t an issue. But a few days in and you’ll notice that it’s easy to slip back into old habits.
Maybe it’s raining and you don’t really want to go out and walk. Or maybe your day just gets away from you. You might actually find excuses to not do something and that is where everything will go wrong.
This is when it’s important to have a daily reminder. Set an alert on your phone or add the new habit to your daily to-do list for a while. This brings us to the next point.
Another strategy is to keep a habit tracker with you just like this Habit Tracker Journal.
Schedule It And Put It On The To-Do List
Sometimes we forget to do that new thing we were trying. Maybe we forget that we’re supposed to be having eggs for breakfast instead of a stack of waffles, or that we need to get that daily walk in.
Schedule your new habits or make them part of your daily to-do list until they become something you do automatically. Make sure you include your WHY or the reason why you need to do that particular task on your reminders.
Make It Public and Be Accountable
Let family and friends know what new habits you’re trying to establish. They will call you out if you don’t stick to your plan and get you back on track.
You may even go as far as sharing it publicly on Facebook or write a blog about your new journey. Knowing that others read it and know about it might be just enough to keep you going when you feel like throwing in the towel.
Piggyback On A Habit You Already Have
Whenever possible, add the new habit to one you already have. For example, if you fix a cup of tea or coffee at 4pm, and you want to get in the habit of taking a daily walk, make the new ritual to go for your walk and then come back and enjoy your tea.
It’s much easier to amend an existing habit or ritual than creating an entirely new one.
Make Slip-Ups Costly
Here’s a fun idea: put a jar on the kitchen counter and each time you slip back into your bad habit or forget to stick to the new one you have to put five dollars in the jar.
It will quickly help you remember to skip that sugary food and motivate you to go out for that walk.
For extra motivation donate the money to charity at the end of the month or hand it over to your spouse to go spend on him or herself.
Find A Partner and Help Each Other Along
Find someone with the same or similar goal. This could be a workout partner or a diet buddy. Keep tabs on each other and encourage each other to keep going. It’s much harder to skip a walk if you know someone else is depending on you being there. I actually just messaged my partner to do home workouts with me as I type this.
Make It A Group Challenge
If one accountability partner is good, a whole group is even better. And they don’t even need to be local. Find a supportive group online and challenge each other to stick to your new habit for the next 30 days or so. Not wanting to be the first one to give up will keep all of you going until you establish that new habit.
Make It Part Of Your Routine Until It Becomes A Habit
Which brings us to the last step. It takes some time before a new behavior becomes a true habit. Until then, a routine will work to your best advantage. Even before the new behavior becomes automatic, a routine will help you get it done without having to spend a lot of willpower or relying on daily reminders.
Make that daily walk part of your after-dinner routine, or change from grabbing a snack at the vending machine at work at 10:00 in the morning to packing a healthy snack.
Give these simple little hacks a try. Keep using the ones that you find helpful until you have made new habits you can stick with without the help of any tools or support.
Yes, it will take some time to make new habits and replace old ones. But it will be well worth it in the end.
You got this!