This is Part 2 in the 4-part series based on creating healthy habits. You can read Part 1, 3 Steps to Creating New Habits here.
It’s hard to keep up willpower for any length of time. Yes, we can stick to a low-fat 1,000 calorie diet and go hungry for a week or two, but eventually our willpower fades. And yes, we can do exercise we hate for a while… until we run out of willpower.
But what about getting up and making coffee every morning, brushing our teeth or going to work every day. Those may not be our favourite things to do either, but we do them daily without the risk of running out of willpower. That’s because they have become habits. They are so ingrained in what we do and who we are that we do them without even considering skipping a day or a week. We don’t have to make a conscious decision each day to shower or drive to work. It’s just what we do – a habit.
When you start to think about it, there is an inverse relationship between habits and will power. When you first want to build a new habit, it takes a lot of willpower to get it done day in and day out. As you start to establish that habit, it becomes easier and easier to do until you don’t even have to think about it anymore.
Just being aware this process helps us stick it out. We know we don’t always have to make such a big effort to go work out or skip the donut for breakfast. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. We know eventually it will become habit to go out for a run first thing in the morning and grab some fruit and fix some eggs for breakfast.
While we’re in that transition from willpower to habit, we can use tools to make it easier:
- Use a to-do list or set a reminder to help stay on track.
- Find an accountability partner so the two of you can motivate each other and help bolster that willpower when it starts to fade after the first enthusiasm wears off.
- Even something as simple as laying out your running clothes the night before and keeping your sneakers by the door will make it a little easier to go out for that run.
Do what you can to help your willpower along until you have made the new behaviour a true habit. After that it’ll be easy and automatic and you’ve created a new lifelong habit.
How Long Does It Really Take To Create A New Habit?
They say it takes 21 days to create a new habit. That’s kind of a weird idea though, isn’t it? It doesn’t take that long to form a bad habit. And sometimes no matter how hard we try it takes us a lot longer to form a new habit.
So how long does it really take to create a new habit? The answer is that it depends.
It depends on your mindset and it depends on how big of a change it is from what you are doing now. If it is your habit to eat a bowl of ice cream at night and you switch from regular ice cream to a low sugar frozen yogurt version, it’s probably not going to take you very long to make that new habit. Giving up ice cream altogether though or cutting out all sugar on the other hand might take a lot longer.
When we ask that question, what we really want to know is how long do we have to tough it out before it gets easier. Is there a light at the end of the tunnel where we don’t have to try so hard anymore? In other words, when will this new behaviour become automatic?
While it will be different from one person to the next and even from one habit to the next, there are a few things to keep in mind.
It’s easier to make a new habit than get rid of an old one. Be prepared to work a lot harder to give up checking your email every 2 minutes or snacking late at night. My best advice is to replace an old habit with a new one. For example if you’re wanting to give up coffee, brew a cup of herbal tea in the morning and throughout the day when you would usually reach for your cup of Joe. There is no need in today’s day and age for depriving ourselves or making ourselves miserable all in the name of “improved health”. Just add healthier habits and after awhile the unhealthy ones will naturally fall to the wayside as you start to feel better, become more motivated and start seeing results from your new healthy habit(s).
Habits will form faster if you stick to the same time and environment each day. Instead of going for a walk whenever, keep your sneakers next to the door and schedule your walk every day at 6pm, right after dinner for example.
A constant reminder of why you’re trying to change your behaviour is also helpful. Remind yourself every day that you’re exercising so your body stays strong and you can turn 50 and feel 30. Or put up a picture to remind you that you’re making frugal habits so you can one day purchase your dream home. Keep your reason why you’re changing front and centre and then be prepared to stick it out. Yes it will take some time to make new habits and replace old ones. But it will be well worth it in the end.
Make sure to come back next week for Part 3 of my “healthy habits” series where we’ll dive a little deeper into some simple hacks to building new habits.
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