Imagine for a moment all the small decisions you’ve taken today or over the past few days. Now, can you identify all the habits you have formed in your life? Our lives are filled with recurrent and often subconscious patterns of behavior. They are formed and reinforced by our small daily decisions, so it would be good to know how to form our habits well!
Choose a positive habit to develop
First, we have to identify a positive habit we would like to acquire. It cannot be expressed in the negative form. For example, “Quit smoking,” “Stop complaining,” and “Stop watching TV in the evenings,” are extremely hard to form. Their positive counterparts are much better: “Take 10 deep breaths and think about my family whenever I feel I need a cigarette,” “Read three positive articles every day before 10 a.m.,” “In the evenings, read a book for at least half an hour.”
If you want to fight some negative habit you already have, don’t think about simply getting rid of it; think about the positive behavior you would like to exchange it for. Human nature simply hates voids!
Your positive habit has to energize you because it will take weeks to become a pattern. For “Watch one TED video every day and think how I can put that into practice,” think about how inspired they make you. For “Do all tasks that take less than three minutes immediately,” remember the great feeling of accomplishment you will have. For “Note down whenever I lend anything out,” consider how you lost so many books already! And for “Communicate according to Non-Violent Communication,” think about how you want to really express what you mean.
Once you’ve identified the habit, let’s start.
Take your time
Have you ever wondered how long it takes to form a habit? Imagine you want to start doing something or change one behavior for the other. Some people say it’s 21 days, but if you try to find the source of that information, you will probably fail.
A great article on PsyBlog, “How Long to Form a Habit,” gives us the answer. To start drinking your daily glass of water, you will need approximately 15 days. However, if you want to start doing 50 sit-ups before breakfast, it will take you 254 days, which is nearly nine months!
The average time to form an automatic behavior is 66 days. You need to give yourself two months of daily repetition before the behavior becomes a habit. Give yourself some time and don’t give up too early! (And by the way, the study has shown that missing a single day did not reduce the chance of forming a habit!)
Form 200 habits
Now I want to challenge you to start forming just one habit, right now. Think about one positive automatic behavior you would like to acquire. It can be very simple, but you should feel energized about it. Now put a reminder on your phone timed for just after you wake up, or put a note on the phone’s main screen. Make a sticky note on your computer, ask your family for support, write it on your hand, write it on the wall, do whatever suits your personal style and will remind you that you are in the process of learning something new.
On average, after 66 days, you’ll be done. It will be fully automatic. This is the time to pick up another positive habit. This way you can form six positive habits every year. Just think for a moment: in a year from now, you will have six subconscious positive behaviors! If you continue that process over the next 30 years, you will be able to form 200 good and healthy habits, just by working on one habit at a time. Exciting, isn’t it?
I encourage you to start this right now. Sit down, relax and think about just one habit, or make a short list. Focus on just one and simply start. Not this coming weekend, not tomorrow, not even later today, start it right now. In about two months you will be ready for another new habit. If you write them down in a list as you achieve them, years from now you will be able to notice the huge positive impact some small decisions made and how many of these previously so-much-desired patterns are now fully automatic.