Updated: Jan 24
The last couple of blogs really looked at being clear about why we want something and why it’s important. Then how to create a clear plan of action and be accountable. What I often get asked is how do I keep this going, how do I ensure I don’t slip or go backwards, ending up where I started from.
Ultimately, how do you create new habits that means you sustain what you want? But what is a habit? How does it differ to a goal if a goal can be broken down to a regular activity?
As we know, having a goal provides the drive and discipline to achieve what we want; the result or the desired outcome. It is something that we are trying to achieve; the object of our ambition or effort. A habit though, is a usual way of us behaving, that we do often in a regular and repeated way or a tendency that we have settled into. An acquired behavior pattern, regularly followed, until it has almost become involuntary, we just do it without conscious thought. To an extent, something we have become unconsciously competent at doing, like looking both ways before crossing the road or having good eating habits for instance.
Therefore, when I think of habits, I think of behaviors I want to be doing day in, day out, that help and support to sustain what’s important to me in my life. I don’t have to think about them, they just happen. It’s not the short-term behavior that will help me reach an endpoint but the longer-term behavior that is embedded. However, some of the behaviors we demonstrate when achieving our goals might just be behaviors we want to turn into habits.
For example, if I want to lose weight as a goal, and through that process a behavior I put in place is to make healthy eating choices, I therefore remind myself of this goal and why I’m doing it. I consciously make the healthy eating choice which results in my weight going down. Now I’m at my goal weight and I see that this particular behavior was what really contributed towards that, how do I then form this behavior into a new habit? Well, if it’s about it being a repeated, regular behavior that is involuntary, I think the question should probably be how long will it take to form a new habit and change my behavior pattern?
Not surprisingly, there are many self-help books out there that will state you can do this in just 21 days, if you do this new desired habit each day. Yes, this is right to some extent. It could take you just 21 days…could. In reality, it can take much longer depending on different circumstances such as the individual or how difficult the new habit is.
It has been found to be anything from 18 to 254 days for people to form a new habit, or on average 66 days.
In other words, if you want to set your expectations more appropriately when thinking about forming a new habit, you need to think about it taking anywhere between 2 to 8 months, to build a new behavior into a habit. Therefore, it potentially will go beyond the period of time you might be demonstrating a behavior to achieve a goal to be fully embedded as an involuntary regular acquired behavior pattern, a new habit.
This is the long game with small incremental steps, and not about being perfect.
Skipping doing the behavior one time doesn’t affect the process of making that behavior a habit. It’s ok to mess up every now and again. This process will take time and mistakes will happen. Be clear that you actually want to do it and the reason behind why that it is. Because if it takes you 18 days, 254 days or anything in between, one thing is true, it’s going to take your hard work to get there. Focus on the work you need to do and not fixate on the length of time.
There are definitely things you can take from both previous blogs on goal setting and accountability, that can support you creating new habits. The goal-setting process in itself can be used as a testing ground. Are some of your process goals, behaviors you want to make habits that align to your why? It also is the start of forming that habit. You’ll be doing some of these behaviors over a period of time and regularly, who knows they may automatically transition into a new habit. Or at least put you on the path there. Be clear about how you are going to hold yourself accountable to this too. What do you need to put in place to help remind you and track progress? Who might you need to tell about this to help support you along the way?
We have a choice about our habits. Sometimes, I think we forget that and get caught in the unconscious involuntary action of these behaviors. It’s good to remind ourselves of this and see whether we want to create new habits or change habits that aren’t serving us anymore.
Please feel free to reach out with any questions or if you would like further 1:1 support.