It is said to take 66 days to make a habit, this is just a misconception. One study showed that it took the participants an average of 66 days to form a particular habit, the actual number varied from 18- 254. A habit can be something as simple as flossing after you brush or going to the gym 3 times a week, but depending on what the habit is and how well you know the tips below it could take you a few weeks or a few months to form.
What is a habit?
Researchers from the University College London state that habits are “Behaviours which are performed automatically because they have been performed frequently in the past. This repetition creates a mental association between the situation (cue) and action (behaviour) which means that when the cue is encountered the behaviour is performed automatically. Automaticity has a number of components, one of which is lack of thought.” (https://www.ucl.ac.uk/news/2009/aug/how-long-does-it-take-form-habit)
Many people assume a habit is something you do every day. This isn’t the case, it is something that you do repeatedly without any thought. It is something that you do automatically in response to a situation.
Where to start?
Start by setting a goal. What do you want to achieve? Remember that goals are easier to stick to when they are quantifiable. Not just “I want to lose weight!” or “I am going to save money”. Give yourself a solid target like “I am going to lose 1 stone” or “I am going to save £2000”
Also, don’t go too big. If you are just starting you don’t want to set yourself big goals. Set small ones to start and gradually build on them. Remember, your goals really should be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-Based)
How to build a habit?
Habits are simply a combination of cues that lead to a behaviour being performed automatically. Think about brushing your teeth you do this when you wake up and you do it in the bathroom but, you don’t brush your teeth every time you walk into the bathroom or while you’re in bed just after waking up. The cues have to chain together, it has to be morning and you have to be in the bathroom. I personally brush mine just after I get out of the shower so the cues for me are:
- In the bathroom
- Just had a shower
Using the idea of chaining can be helpful for adding a new step into your routine. For example, if I decided I wanted to start flossing, I would use the chain that I already have established: morning, bathroom, shower, teeth, and then I would add flossing to the end. This sets up an environment that encourages the habit to form.
Creating a new habit can be a bit trickier than just adding another step onto your morning routine. Try using if/then statements to help form a structure:
- If it is the afternoon, then I will say no to caffeine
- If it is Thursday, then I will go swimming after work
- If someone offers me a sweet, then I will say no thank you
Think about these statements and plan them in advance, this puts you in a better position to achieve them. Try to build these cues off existing ones, for example I travel past the swimming pool to get home – a slight left and I have made the first step in creating a new habit.
Choosing the right reward can make or break a habit. Your reward should be small enough that you still enjoy the habit and aren’t just there for the reward, large enough that you get an extra boost of feel good feelings, it should happen immediately after the action otherwise your brain will not recognise it as a reward for that behaviour. Your reward should be linked to the action/behaviour, it should be something that you can’t get without doing the action.
The habit-forming model
When making a action a habit that you want to stick to, it is important to remember these three components:
- Identify your goal
- Create a chain of cues
- Use small, immediate rewards
These lead to successful habit making, but remember there is no set time for you to create a habit. Each habit is different and depending on the cues and rewards used habits can be formed in very different times.