“Depending on what they are, our habits will either make us or break us. We become what we repeatedly do.” – Sean Covey
In the vast majority of cases, becoming successful doesn’t happen by accident. Achieving a goal or a life long dream requires dedication, effort and forming habits, whether it’s a new year’s resolution or a lifestyle change you want to make now. Even if the goal (e.g. losing weight, toning up or running a marathon) you’re aiming for isn’t something you can achieve with simple repetition of a task, habits which you build into your life will help you realise your goal.
So how long does it take to change your life? Or at least adopt a new habit? Phillippa Lally, a health psychology researcher at UCL published a study in 2009 entitled ‘How long does it take to form a habit’. She found that on average it takes 66 days for a habit to become ingrained, which is longer than most people expect. It turned out that the more hard work the habit was, the longer it took. She analysed a group of study participants who adopted hobbies as simple as drinking water with lunch to going for a 15 minute run every day at the same time. After 12 weeks, the participants were assessed to discover how long it took for the new behaviour to become automatic.
The average was 66 days, the shortest 18 days. The longest reported at the end of three months that the habit still was not second nature was 254 days. So the key to adopting a new behaviour is to keep at it. People who exercise find it hard to stay consistent even for a short period of time such as 4 weeks. Diet and training modifications which are new can be challenging to adjust to. Making a habit requires dedication – our brains are hardwired to take shortcuts and to do what comes naturally to us – so while you are telling yourself you want to create new habits, your brain is busy working out how it can revert to your old ways. It’s important to remember why you made the pledge in the first place so that when, for example, your sub-conscious tells you to to skip that gym session or eat that pizza, you are able to stay in control and do what you know you need to, to achieve your goal.