How long does it take to make or break a habit?
There are so many conflicting ‘expert’ opinions on the length of time it takes – anywhere between a second to three weeks to two months or even years. What experts do tend to agree on though is that the time it takes is inextricably linked to your emotional response to that habit. Attitude and behaviour will contribute to starting or breaking a habit.
We learn every day habits from as young as toddlers that stay with us for life. If a toddler touches something hot like the hob or an iron, the painful and emotional reaction is severe enough in those moments to create a life long habit of not touching dangerously hot items.
One key feature of breaking or beginning a habit is the decision to do it and how emotionally linked we are to it.
It always seems impossible until it is done
– Nelson Mandela
We would all like to achieve that ever shifting and evolving goal of happiness. Experts say it depends on our determination and willingness to change our behaviour patterns and habits we have already developed or got so used to doing that we don’t notice we do them anymore.
What do you want to achieve to bring a little bit more happiness in to your life?
How many times have you said to yourself I wish…?
I wish I could work less. I wish I could earn more money.
I wish I could lose weight.
I wish I could get the children ready for school on time every single day.
Don’t wish for it work for it!
Most people wait for permission before going ahead and growing. They stop, caught at an imaginary red traffic light, waiting for someone else to change the lights to green before they go forward and make that next step. Don’t procrastinate. If you want it, get on and start working for it NOW!
Do not wait: the time will never be ‘just right’
– Napoleon Hill
After deciding what it is you want to achieve to create a little more happiness, set a goal.
Setting a Goal
Write down a goal or more. It is best to limit the goals to 1-5 to begin with. Having too many goals to focus on could allow you to become over whelmed by the enormity of change and therefore lead to a higher chance of failure. You could focus on one at a time or choose the three most important to you.
Write Them Down
Write your goals down. Link each goal with a habit you must break or start in order to achieve that goal. It could be as simple as:
Goal – Being punctual every day.
Habit – Setting the alarm at 6 every day and getting up without snoozing.
Spend a moment to visualise you succeeding each of your goals.
What does it look like to succeed?
How will you feel?
Share Your Goal
Tell someone, tell lots of people. Make your goal real and therefore make yourself accountable.
The people around us can influence us greatly, especially our habits. We can quite easily pick up habits from close family and friends and not even realise we have done so. If one person in a couple
decides to give up smoking or become vegan, then it is most likely that the other person will too. This can be a positive habit change, but it could easily be a negative impact, and people can end up
in co-dependent relationships.
When trying to start or break habits it is advisable to be mindful of the people who are around you, especially daily. Look for people you consider having good habits and are good role models. There
are 4 types of people who you may be surrounded by.
- People who push you to succeed but push too hard, making you want to push back.
- People who are indifferent to your habits and offer neither support or discouragement.
- People who could sway you to give up too easily. They convince you that you are being too hard on yourself and that change may not be good. It could be that they are jealous of your
determination to change and feel inadequate that they haven’t changed themselves!
- People who are positive and offer support and encouragement and genuinely have your best interests at heart.
Be mindful of the people that will support your choices and help you to reach those goals!
Practise, Practise, Practise
Practise your habit over and over until it becomes just that, a habit, and you do it naturally. When beginning a new habit, we are training the brain to make new connections – neural pathways.
Imagine a field of grass untouched by anyone. The first time you walk across the field you may trample the grass and it may not be easy, but you have formed a vague path. If you go through the field again and again you eventually form a defined pathway through which becomes the normal path, and in doing so strengthens the neural pathway in your brain until the habit becomes the
Resilience and Motivation
Failure is a part of life and you will be disappointed and want to give up when the days get tough.
Keep your list of goals with you so you can remind yourself of the happiness you are taking steps to create and the goals you have set. Update your habits – you may have achieved one or more and
need to create a new habit.
Celebrate your success and achievement – tick the habits off. Reward yourself with a small treat to associate change and hard work with success (maybe don’t reward yourself with food treat if you
goal was diet based). Your brain will begin to associate hard work and achievement with good things.
Be proud but also have gratitude. Be grateful that you could make changes however small.
If you feel you haven’t made progress, go back and adjust your habits – make the steps smaller and easier and trust you will get there in the end.
If you would like to find out more about setting goals read Malcolm Kilminster’s Life Without Limits.
“A brilliant book, written in plain English, that reveals how to set goals in a series of easily worked chapters. It guides you through the hows and whys of setting goals.”