How many times have you heard that it takes just a few weeks to develop a new habit? The truth is a bit more complicated than that, but there are scientific ways to help you lock in the changes you want to make.
The myth about behavior becoming automatic in 21 days started when journalists misinterpreted a popular self-help book on Psycho Cybernetics back in the 1960’s. After all, you can probably eat more vegetables starting today, but complex tasks like playing the violin are going to take more than a month to gel.
On the other hand, now is an ideal time to begin forming constructive habits that can increase your happiness and your health. Take a look at these strategies for developing new behaviors.
Basic Strategies for Habit Formation
Try these tips for easing into your new routines as quickly as possible:
- Plan ahead. Eliminate excuses by spending a few minutes planning out your day and week. If you want to wake up an hour earlier, go to bed on time, and dream about the invigorating yoga class and delicious breakfast that await you in the morning.
- Be consistent. Regularity reinforces itself. Pretty soon it will be easier to go to the gym after work rather than changing your mind, even if it’s raining or your colleagues are heading out for beer and pizza.
- Spot triggers. Kicking a habit requires you to notice what happens right before you bite your nails or eat that candy bar. Are you bored, overly tired, or angry with your partner?
- Develop substitutions. Once you know your cues, you can choose a different response. Take a walk around the block, tune up some music, or call a friend.
- Review your reasons. Go over the reasons why you want to adopt your new behavior. Remind yourself about how drinking water instead of soda will help you slim down, strengthen your bones, and save money.
- Personalize your goals. While you’re contemplating your reasons, visualize your future self. Focus on what you have to gain instead of just pleasing others.
Advanced Strategies for Habit Formation
What if you’re tackling something as ambitious as managing diabetes or transforming your dead-end dating history?
These ideas will give you an extra boost:
- Practice compassion. You’re bound to slip up occasionally. Forgive yourself, and move forward.
- Team up. Enlist a friend so you can exchange support and encouragement. Eat lunch with a colleague who is trying to lose weight too.
- Write it down. Raise your awareness by keeping a journal about your campaign to stop swearing or start flossing. Note what happens on the days you stick to your program compared to the days when you drift back into old patterns.
- Remove temptations. Eliminate the triggers that distract you from your objectives. Clear the junk food out of your kitchen or the cigarettes out of your car.
- Design obstacles. Make it difficult to give in to your old tendencies. Leave your credit cards at home to prevent impulsive shopping sprees.
- Go on vacation. Leave home for a while. Vacations are an ideal time to forge new habits because you can make a fresh start in different surroundings. Sit down to meditate each morning instead of becoming caught up in searching for lost socks or checking your email.
Make daily exercise and parallel parking so easy you won’t even have to think about them. Positive habits make advantageous choices automatic so you’ll stick with them. You’ll also have more energy to devote to other challenges.