Do you often find yourself making ambitious New Year’s resolutions and then giving in only after afew days..? According to psychologists, changing your behavioural habits means going out of your comfort zone. Repeating the same actions day after day means that we simply obtain the same results..even if those are negative, at least we know what to expect. In this article, I’ll give you a five-step plan to help you change your habits and adopt new ones!
How long do we really need?
There is no scientific consensus about the time needed to adopt new habits. In 1960, having observed that his patients would take around three weeks to get used to their new face following plastic surgery, the American surgeon Maxwell Maltz wrote his book Psycho-Cybernetics, which later became a bestseller. In this book, he develops a theory according to which one would need “a minimum of 21 days in order to get rid of previous mental images and create new ones”. In 2009, a more researched study estimated that the necessary time for habits to change could vary from 18 to 254 days, with an average of 66 days. In practice, the time that you take to develop a new habit depends on:
- Your adaptability and predisposition to change
- Your action plan
- Your consistency
30 days - a good place to start :
Psychologically, a month-long approach is an ideal length of time to set yourself a challenge. It also means that you can divide this period into four, one-week stages, measuring your progress and tailoring your approach accordingly.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that your new habit will be set in stone after 30 days! However, in the same way that we might approach other projects in stages, implementing these stages here will also help us to adopt and form new habits faster and more easily. If you manage to last the 30 days, you’ve most likely already been through the worse and there’s a really good chance that this new habit will become the everyday norm.
5 simple rules :
1 - Only one habit at a time
Choose the most important habit to you that you’d like to change, or maybe the one that seems easiest to change at first. Make sure that you repeat this habit daily, or regularly (for example 30 minutes of brisk walking three times a week)
2 - Define your target and the reasons why you have set youself this target
Personal development ‘mentors’ often use a SMART approach: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time bound.
In practice, focus on specific results and numbers:
- I want to lose 9lbs in the four following weeks
- I want to save £100 each month
3 - Implement a routine
Routine is exactly what will eventually allow you to stop thinking consciously about carrying out your new ‘habit’. If you’re constantly changing location, time, intensity or level of difficulty, you’ll only be making it a lot harder! The majority of professionals all have routines - athletes, cooks, writers, pilots.. - their level of competence and expertise in their field largely relies on the routines they put in place.
So, try and choose a good location and precise time slot(s) when you know you’ll be able to implement your new routine:
- Running after work, every other day
- Eating a fruit for dessert rather than a treat
- Taking nutritional supplements with your breakfast
4 - Don't break the rythm
Make sure you put your new habit into practice DAILY, or at least three times per week for a periodic goal. Repeat the same actions, the same routine, again and again, every single day.. your new habit(s) should almost become a ritual! The more regular and consistent you can be, the more secure, solid and easier your new routine will become. However, even letting yourself off for a single day makes it all the more difficult to stick to your new routine.
5 - Start gradually
A common French saying is that “Paris ne s’est pas fait en un jour” - a bit like “Rome wasn’t built in a day”. The same goes for adopting your new routine, so aim to start with one-week stages:
- If your aim is to get up one hour earlier, start by setting your alarm ten minutes earlier than usual. After a week, add another ten minutes.
- If your aim is to do one hour of brisk walking three times per week, start with just 15 minutes.
- If you want to reduce your intake of sugary drinks, start by increasing the amount of time between each one you consume.
- Maxwell Maltz Psycho-Cybernetics.
- How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world. Phillippa Lally, Cornelia H. M. van Jaarsveld, Henry W. W. Potts, Jane Wardle, 16 July 2009