Building Habits that Last

We’ve all seen the magazine articles and clippy Facebook articles about creating a new habit in just 21 days… Just three weeks to… fill in the blank, This idea has been around since the 1950’s when a plastic surgeon names Maxwell Maltz began noticing patterns of adjustment periods with his patients post surgery that began to settle around day 21. Meaning, Maltz’s findings ” …tend to show that it requires a minimum of about 21 days for an old mental image to dissolve and a new one to jell.” He decided to take these findings and write an article suggesting that it takes at least 21 days to begin to form a new habit.

A few things have been lost in translation over the years. First the very important word, “at least”. Meaning, it will take at least 21 days for your brain to even start to think of something as second nature or, “habit”. The other thing to point out is that Maltz’s finding weren’t based on scientific study. Remember the science experiments from middle school? You need a hypothesis, a control group etc. Maltz had none of that, he just had observation and theories. His finding happened to turn into a best seller and the rest has just turned into a bad game of telephone.

So, how long does it take to form a new habit? Well, 66 days according to Phillippa Lally, a health psychology researcher at University College London. In a study published by European Journal of Social Psychology, Lally and her team asked 96 patients to choose one new habit and report over a 12 week period about how automatic the behavior felt. The bottom line was it will take about two months to start seeing consistent results with your habit. Harder habits could take up to eight months to really jell.

Of course there is one circumstance that happens to change any habit overnight. Getting pregnant. An instant habit changer!

So, what am I trying to do with this information? Scare you off of starting new habits? Nope, adjust your expectations so you can begin working on habits in the right head space – it’s not going to be easy, but it’s going to be worth it.

There are several stages to forming a habit. The first stage is the easy part. The “honeymoon”. Everything seems easy in those first few days. You’re LOVING this new habit. Then the first obstacle comes up – you aren’t able to wake up early to workout, you splurged on too much dessert, your mail has been piling up for a week, whatever the “thing” is and you have reached what Jason Selk wrote about in an article for Forbes called the “fight thru”. This is the critical part of creating a new habit. This is working harder, focusing in and not letting anything get in the way of this new habit. It requires work and sacrifice.

These two pieces are the downfall of most new habits. The new years resolution problem, two of the biggest reasons we don’t reach our goals in general, It takes sacrifice and hard work and most of the time we don’t see the immediate reward to keep going. To get through the fight thru to make a habit second nature.

So, how can you get to the other side of fight thru? Here are three suggestions from the same article by Mr. Selk:

  1. RECOGNIZE: Recognition is essential for winning the fight thru. When you have entered the fight thru, simply say to yourself, “I have entered the fight thru, and I need to win a few to move past this.” Winning each fight thru will make it easier to win the next. Conversely, when you choose to lose a fight thru, you make it easier to lose the next one.
  2. ASK 2 QUESTIONS: “How will I feel if I do this?” and “How will I feel if I don’t do this?”Bring EMOTION into the equation. Let yourself feel the positive in winning the fight thru and the negative in losing.
  3. LIFE PROJECTION: If the above 2 techniques haven’t moved you to action, then imagine in great detail how your life will be in 5 years if you do not begin making changes. Be totally honest with yourself, and allow yourself to feel what life will be like if the changes are not made.

Acknowledge that you are human, be kind to yourself. You will have days that are easier than others, days when things come up. Whether it takes two months, eight months or one day, daily commitment and consistency to your habits is key to long term success.

Good luck and as always Happy Organizing!