January 29, 2013 by Darlene McC
What Amazons Want is a goal setting series started the first of January 2013. If you’d like help with a fresh start on your goals and make this year “Lucky ’13” click over to The Big Picture.
So you want to change your life? Then you need to change your habits, as we established last week. But how long until you’ve got this new pattern wired up right?
21 Day Myth
Conventional wisdom tells us there is a set number of days it takes for a new habit to form. I’ve heard people say 2 weeks. I’ve heard people say 21 or 28 days. I’ve heard a month. University College London has a decent post explaining the history of the 21 day myth & their own research if you’re interested. Simple answer: 21 days is rubbish.
According to a study by UCL designed to test the 21 day myth it took people an average of 66 days to form a new habit, but that number was highly variable. People choosing an easy habit, like having a glass of water after a meal, created the new habit faster than someone who chose a difficult habit, like working out. Low bar habits are easier to form, meaning you can progress to another habit sooner.
The new habit formation also depends on how often you use the new habit loop and how persistent you are with it. If you only do the new habit once a week it wont form as quickly as something you have to do once a day.
So what does that mean for you?
There are a few things you can do to help keep you aware of your old habit, on your new habit, and make you more resilient to habit change as a whole.
#1: Stick With IT!
Whatever IT is.
People fall of the wagon. It happens. We all trip and land in the shit sometimes. But that doesn’t make you a failure. The act of getting up, hosing yourself down, and starting again is in itself a habit! Think about it! If you’ve given up when you stumble you’ve created the “I can’t do this” habit loop.
Write yourself an If/Then statement for failure. May I suggest “If I am unsuccessful with this change then I’m going to journal about it and try again”.
#2: Don’t Stress IT!
Imagine you and a drill sergeant are teaching a 5 year old to tie their shoes. They suck at it right? The sergeant is highly aggressive, so you let him have a go. He yells and hollers and tells the kid they can’t get up until they do it. They’re so stressed out they’re trembling and fail. They want to quit. The sergeant leaves the room so the kid can sulk in solitude.
Now you come in. And you’re awesome and sweet and kind, right? Of course you are, cause you’re a good person. You tell the kid they’re great, help them calm down, and show them the bunny loop trick. You sing the little song that goes with it, and reinforce the habit of singing the song too. They practice until they’ve got the song stuck in their head and know all the steps. (You’ve just created a habit loop!)
That little kid is YOU! If you beat yourself up you’ll be so stressed out that you can’t succeed. If you slip up don’t give yourself a time out and a verbal beating; pick yourself up, give yourself a hug, and treat your If/Then statement like the bunny ear song & make it a mantra for success.
#3: Write IT Out
I have rolled my eyes a million times when various people have told me the “power” of journaling. It has, at various times in my life, seemed utterly ridiculous that “Dear Diary” was going to change my life.
And it hasn’t.
But when I let go of the “diary” formula and started using different journals to organize my life it became easier for me to be productive and my creativity has sky rocketed. It also allowed me to recognize my habit loops more clearly and brainstorm how to fix them effectively.
Experiment with your own journaling habits. You don’t have to be Anne Frank about it. I keep one tiny notebook for on the fly ideas, one for training & health, and one for UA. That’s it.
It’s hard to know exactly when to pump up the volume on yourself. Unlike physiological changes where you progress your workout every two weeks, psychological changes are more fluid. This is another time when journaling comes in.
Once a habit is automatic, meaning you do the routine without thinking and it’s completely second nature, you’re ready to take on something else.
I use the personal rule of thumb “Is it ritual?” Does it feel like something I did in church as a child? As rote as which hand I use to brush my teeth? If not, I keep at that one before I pick up another one.
Your Next Pick
Once you’ve got one or two down and you can recognize your habit loops and how to change them I want you to pick something just out of your grasp. Something you have to grow to reach. Run a 5k or cut back to only 1 smoke a day. Set a savings goal that requires you to change your lifestyle.
Go back to your 5 Goal List and tie it back to everything else we’ve been working on. You’ve got this.