It turns out that 40% of our daily behaviour is based on habits. Accepted wisdom is that it takes 21 days to form a new habit or get rid of an old one. This is based on research that was done by NASA some years back while training astronauts. More recent research suggests that the time it takes to form a habit in the more general population varies with different people.
For example, during a recent University College of London study they found that the time taken to form a new habit was quite variable with an average of 66 days and ranging from 18 days for some, and up to 254 days, almost 9 months, for all people in the study to form a new habit. Although some people will achieve a new habit in just 21 days as NASA found for astronauts, it will not work for all people.
So how do you make or break a habit?
You need to figure out when you're going to perform the new habit and make it part of your normal daily activity. To become part of your daily routine you need to put it in your diary for a particular time, or connect it with another already routine activity. You will need to stick to the newly modified routine until it becomes second nature to you.
You need to be quite specific about what you're trying to achieve. For example, if you are trying to break the habit of constantly checking your email, set some rules around it such as only checking email twice a day – say immediately before lunch and just before going home. Schedule these rules in the diary and the more that you adhere to your specific rule, gradually changes are made in your brain that make it effortless over time.
Be positive about even the small steps that you achieve. Be grateful for achieving the first day of your new routine, then the first week, month, and so on. Before long the habit will have been formed or broken, and then you will have a really great cause for celebration.
It is best to start now. Do not leave it until the first of the month, or when you think that it will be easier or more convenient. There is never a better time than right now.
Finally be patient. It may well be that 21 days does not work for you. We are all different and depending on the habits you want to make or break, it may take you considerably longer and perhaps up to 9 months.
I am taking my own advice in forming a new habit. As my work is quite sedentary I have decided to get back into road cycling again – something I have enjoyed in the past and fell out of the habit of doing. Partly motivated by missing that edge I feel when I am fit, but also as my daughter has decided to take on the 160km Lake Taupo Challenge during November, I blew the dust off the bike and pumped up the tyres. I am now 8 weeks into forming my new habit greatly assisted by the Strava app on the iPhone. I am already feeling the effects of having a lot more energy and knowing when it is getting close to time to get out for that cycle as part of the routine. Surprisingly I did not find it as difficult as I thought it would be. The key is to start now.
Note: Google chrome users will need to install the RSS extension
Michael posts on topics relating to organisational growth and excellence
Sign up below to receive my future posts and offers