Are there any new habits you'd like to form? Writing every day, making time to read every day, exercising, or keeping your home office tidy, for instance? How long would it take, and what are the best ways to do it?
21 DAYS IS A MINIMUM
For a while, the conventional wisdom was it takes 21 days to form a new habit, which actually was a misstatement of the conclusion of personal development guru Maxwell Maltz, who said it takes at least 21 days.
In 2009, a study at University College London found that how long it takes depends on how difficult the behavior is, but the average was 66 days. That is, you have to do the new thing 66 days in a row before it becomes a habit and make it feel stranger not to do it than to do it.
There have been several books about habit formation lately and what most of them advise is:
* Be sure this is a habit you want to develop (rather than something somebody else thinks you should develop);
* Be specific--"writing more" is too vague. Instead, we might decide to "write at least 500 words a day" or "spend at least 20 minutes a day working on my novel.";
* Set up a cue or trigger that reminds you to do the desired behavior. If you want to get into the habit of drinking more water, you can link that to brushing your teeth (you'll drink a glass of water afterward) or making it the first thing you do during your lunch break, for example.
* Make the new behavior as easy to do as possible. If you want to eat at least 1 piece of fruit a day, make sure the fruit bowl is where you can see it every time you go into the kitchen. If you want to have fruit instead of eating a candy bar, don't keep any candy bars in the house.
* When possible, do the behavior at the same time every day or the same day every week;
* When possible, combine a new habit with one that's already established. For instance, if you already go for a 15-minute walk every day and you'd like to get into the habit of learning a few new words of a foreign language every day, you could listen to language tapes while taking your walk.
* When possible, get someone else to be your new habit partner--for instance, someone who will go on a brisk walk with you every morning or be your gym partner three times a week.
* Give yourself a reward to reinforce the new behavior. For some people, just checking the item off a to- do list is enough. Food is a powerful reward, but can also be a dangerous one if you're watching your weight. The ideal reward is one that you don't get normally.
* Have specific rules for when it's OK not to do the behavior. For instance, if your goal is to exercise at the gym every day, how sick will you have to be in order to have a good reason not to do it? Feeling a little tired probably isn't a great reason, being in the infectious stage of an illness is. If these rules are in place when you start, you'll be less likely to rationalize exceptions.
* If you miss a day, don't let that be an excuse for lapsing for longer. Resume the next day.
DON'T FORGET THIS ONE!
* Finally, and this is the one most people forget about, if the new habit takes time, decide what you will stop doing, or will do for less time, in order to free up that time for the new behavior.