How to replace bad habits?

new habitContrary to popular belief that 21 days is the period of time required to change a habit or form a new one, may not be so true.

First and foremost we must understand what a habit is, according to  Merriam Webster Dictionary: 

habit (or wont) is a routine of behavior that is repeated regularly and tends to occur unconsciously”,

where unconsiously meaning a process in the mind which occurs automatically and that your not aware of.

How are habits formed?

There is a process called ‘Context-dependent repetition’ – Best way to explain this would be, imagine everytime after having a meal, you light up a cigarette, there is a mental link formed everytime you have a meal and having a cigarette, the more often you perform this action on a regular basis the stronger the habit becomes until you are unconsious of it so after many repetition of this you forget how and when this particular habit was formed.

A recent research by University College London (UCL), tells us a little different story from our current understanding….

Well lets start from the top…

Where did they 21 days Habit formation myth orginate?

Accordin to study by UCL, they think its due Dr Maxwell Maltz, a plastic surgeon turned psychologist wrote, who wrote in his book ‘Psycho-cybernetics’:

It usually requires a minimum of about 21 days to effect any perceptible change in a mental image. Following plastic surgery it takes about 21 days for the average patient to get used to his new face. When an arm or leg is amputated the “phantom limb” persists for about 21 days. People must live in a new house for about three weeks before it begins to “seem like home”. These, and many other commonly observed phenomena tend to show that it requires a minimum of about 21 days for an old mental image to dissolve and a new one to jell.’ (pp xiii-xiv)

As you can see, this has seem to have been misinterpreted slightly through time, although, all this doesn’t really matter.

what we are really interested is in how can this help me?

Before we know how long its going to form a new habit, we firstly need to bring our habits in our unconsious to our counsious awareness, we need to be aware of of our ‘good’ and ‘bad’ habits thats within us, then only can you start to take control of it and use it for our benefit.  We are the ony once reponsible for our habits so its important that we take charge and not let our habits take charge of us.

How long does it take to form a new habit?

The UCL study where “Participants performed a self-chosen health-promoting dietary or activity behaviour (e.g. drinking a glass of water) in response to a once-daily cue (e.g. after breakfast)” the students were tracked for 84days where some formed habits within 18 days and some did not even form habits even at the 84 days stage and were expected to take upto 254 days to form the habit.  Please do bear in mind some habits are more complexed than others so it may naturally take longer. There is no definite answer on this but saying that on average it takes roughly 66 days.

So now you know roughly how long it takes all you now have to do is form a mental link between an activity and the new habit you want to form, for example one of my new habits is everytime i wake up in the morning, im straight out of bed and I want to do stretching to get all my blood flowing and as soon as i done that my energy levels are high, now that is a now habit that serves me well because now when i wake up im much more productive.  So now a mental link is formed with me getting up in the morning and stretching.

What ever habit you are forming or replacing what ever you do make sure its consistent every day, write a little post it note for your self why you are forming this habit and how is this going to help me in my life, so it can be a constant reminder to you.  What ever happens, even if you don’t feel like it, the most important thing to do is for us to form that mental link between the activity and the habit you want to form so regardless how the day may seem like, make sure you perform the action.

 The information provided is for you to take action not a conversational piece :).  I would love to know how long it has taken you to form a new habit, if you haven’t formed a new habit tests this theory out and i would love to hear how it went, comment below.

Here is the link to the full study if you wish to study it in more depth please click here

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