How to form a habit


How to form a habit

We are now at the beginning of February and it is exactly the time when those New Year Resolutions are tested or abandoned.  It is cold, dark, depressing (add to the general gloom the death of my obsession and artistic hero in January- disregarding Lets Dance album) it would be SO EASY to reach for a bag of chips and a glass of wine.
Last year that sentence would have been different, it would definitely have included chocolate but as you know that is a habit that I have managed to break. I have been researching on how long it takes to form new habits, whether that is breaking with sugar and alcohol or eating more fruit and veg, taking more exercise.
If you google this the magic number that appears is 21 days, when I drilled down into this information it was based on a piece of research which took place in the 1950s.  The plastic surgeon Maxwell Maltz noticed that when he performed operations like nose jobs on his patients it took them about 21 days to get used to seeing their new face, or for amputees to no longer still sense a phantom limb, not really applicable to ongoing health habits in 2016.
Lets take smoking, when a smoker stops it takes 2 days for the addictive nicotine to leave the body, if it only takes 21 days to break a habit then why do so many smokers stop for months or years and return to the habit?  It just cannot be that simple.
In 2010, University College London conducted a study tracking 96 people over 84 days (12 weeks).  Each participant chose a dietary or activity behaviour to be undertaken once daily.  The researchers found that it took an average of 66 days to reach peak levels of automaticity.
The caveat is, to quote the Life of Brian “We are all individuals” (“I’m not”)!  Some people do change habits in 18 days, some people can take 254 days (8 to 9 months).  it would also depend upon how ingrained the behaviour is you are trying to alter and how emotionally attached you are to that pattern.
If your resolution will improve your quality of life and health it is worth doing AND it really does get easier.  I never never ever ever imagined my life being chocolate and cake free, the idea I would willing turn down quality street, selection boxes, mince pies (my sister makes AMAZING mince pies) at Christmas because I just did want them anymore was inconceivable.
If you have fallen off the new year wagon get back on start again, looking back it definitely eased for me after 21 days and my habitual thinking regarding sugar was there in the 66 days so in this case I fitted the study.

How to do it:

Day 1 to 22

Get on with it.  Enlist as much support and help as you can, be vocal, tell your partners and people who live with you so they can support.  Also tell me and I will support you.  Make up your mind, steel yourself and do not deviate. No excuses, no “I was starving and there was only a gateaux in the fridge” or “I was so tired after work I couldn’t face exercise” just be tough.  This is the hardest phase, bit there is light at the end of this tunnel.

Day 23 to 44

Work on yourself, think long and hard about why you are doing this.  Have you noticed a difference so far?  What are the positives?  What do you want out of life and how do you want to represent yourself?  Being clear about the reasons for change makes it so much easier.

Day 23 to 66

Keep going.  This is when a lot of people are likely  to relapse so be tough on yourself and just do not allow yourself to slack off. Return to the mindset of the first three weeks. NO EXCUSES

Day 66 or later

Celebrate BUT NOT BY SLIPPING BACK!
Mentally list the positives you have achieved, compare where you are now to the beginning of the process.  Healthy rewards such as massages are definitely applicable!
Exercise is a positive habit and it really helps the resolve and strength to implement other life changes.  Achieving physical fitness can inform every other area of your life. No Excuses!
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