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It Takes THIS Long to Create a Successful Habit

Sep 14, 2021

It Takes THIS Long to Create a Successful Habit

We truly live in amazing times right now. Fifty years ago, it took a very large room to hold the computer power that we now take for granted on our cell phones. Go back that same fifty years and most of us had three television channels to choose from, and we had to walk across the room to change the channel. Today we can choose between hundreds of different channels without lifting a finger. We can watch any movie ever made just by scrolling down our screens. Amazing!

Unfortunately, technology has advanced at microwave speeds while our habitual actions (our habits) change at a more sedentary pace. It seems we can endlessly adapt to faster computers, better cameras on our phones and Bluetooth everything. Why can we not change our habits at the speed of light?

We humans like advances in technology, however, we don’t do well when it comes to changes in our habits. We put off changes, we come up with excuses and reasons why we don’t need to change. Even when the change would be a step in a positive direction, most of us avoid change at all costs. Just how long does it take to successfully create a positive new habit?

According to a 2009 study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, it takes 18 to 254 days for a person to form a new habit. The study also concluded that, on average, it takes 66 days for a new behavior to become automatic. For example, putting on our seat belt as soon as we enter a car.

Perhaps some of that large range for habit change, from 18 to 254 days, can be explained when one considers whether the habit we wish to change is enjoyable. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), pleasure-based habits are particularly difficult to break, because enjoyable behavior prompts our brain to release dopamine. Dopamine is the reward that strengthens the habit and creates the craving to do it again.

Here are 5 steps to create a successful habit:

  1. Make a decision. Decide clearly that we are going to begin acting in a specific way 100% of the time, whenever that behavior is required. The key is to only make the decision once. For example, if we decide to get up at a particular time each morning, then we do not have to think about it each morning when the alarm goes off. We decided once to get up each morning, there is no decision to be made each morning.
  2. Never allow an exception to our new successful habit, especially during the formative stages. Don’t make excuses or rationalizations. Don’t let yourself off the hook.
  3. Tell others that we are going to begin practicing a new, successful behavior. It is amazing how much more disciplined and determined we will become when we know that others are watching us and, hopefully, encouraging us.
  4. Find something about the successful habit we wish to create that is very positive and enjoyable. The fastest way to fail is to hate every minute of creating a new habit. Focus on the positive, favorable outcomes we can achieve in the future. If we choose to lose weight, we can focus on how much better we will look and the new clothes we can wear. We will not be successful if we focus on all the foods we are missing and how much we want a large pizza or some French fries.
  5. Most important, allow ourselves a reward for practicing our new, successful habit. Remember the enjoyable factor of dopamine release. Fun, happiness, and pleasure produce dopamine surging through our bodies. When we succeed with the creation of a positive habit, we build on that habit with the enjoyment of the positive outcome.

How long does it take to create a successful habit? The answer can vary significantly in each of us. No matter if it is one day or an entire year, make it enjoyable and go for the positive change. Be Blessed.

Category: Dr. Sterling