We talk a lot about writing your goals down in your Happy Balance Planner, breaking them down using our goal funnel and then chasing them unapologetically. Even typing that sentence makes it sound relatively easy and so streamlined that there should be no obstacles to overcome or struggles to work through. The reality of the goal chasing business: it’s not easy! It takes discipline, determination, passion and belief!
Today, we want to focus on the discipline and the determination part of the equation. This is related to the idea of creating and forming habits that guide you and help you find forward progress.
Habits are those that are second nature tendencies that just settle comfortably into your routines and actions without much thought.
We all have some bad habits (scrolling through Instagram like it’s going out of style…guilty right here!) but we also have just as much ability to form healthy habits that can nurture good intentions and help us push toward our dreams. These are the habits that we want to support and build so that our daily activities are rooted in positive actions that don’t take up much space in our head…they are simply automatic.
How do you form a habit though and how do you make something resonate so loudly with you that it actually starts to stick? This seems to be the million dollar question. Especially today, we want the immediate fix and when we are ready to make a change, we want it to happen yesterday. Unfortunately, that’s just not how it works. Rather than an event, habits are processes. They take time, patience, persistence and let’s be honest…a whole lot of grace!
If you google how long it takes to form a habit, a common result you’ll find is 21 days. The idea of 21 days automatically sets you up for thinking that if you do that one thing you want to make a habit for 21 days straight, on the 22nd day you’re good to go and will just automatically be doing your habit like it’s second nature. That’s just not realistic! There’s nothing special or magical about 21 days, or any other set number of days for that matter and we don’t want you anxiously waking up on the 22nd day waiting for your whole world to change.
Rooted in a little more science is a study conducted by Lally, a health psychology researcher at the University College of London, and her colleagues that studied the habit formation process in 96 volunteers over a 12 week period. Each day, the participants recorded whether or not they engaged in an activity consistently (i.e. same time, place, etc.) daily. The goal was to try to answer how long it took for an everyday activity to become automatic. Not surprising, Lally and her team did not find 21 days to be the magic answer. In fact, it was almost three times that with the average being approximately 66 days! Perhaps even more interesting was the range of days found for behaviors to become automatic: 18 -254 days.
The take home point of this large range: each of us on an individual journey, even when it comes to forming a habit and it is absolutely normal, and perhaps even necessary, to need more than 21 or 66 days to form a habit.
How do you find your sweet spot and how do you even get started in the habit formation process? Coming from a household where both Jordan and I find security in a routine, invariably made of habits, we’ve got a few tips for you:
- Find Incremental Progress: There might be some habits that you can break easily and others that seem impossible before you even get started. For those big ones, we’ve found that it’s sometimes easier to ease into a new habit rather than shocking your system or lifestyle. This roots back into our use of the goal funnel system that takes a larger goal and breaks it down into actionable and approachable steps. I’ll give you an example. I’m currently trying to make getting into bed by 10:30pm every night a habit (rather than my 11:30pm-12am routine I’ve got going on right now). Seems easy to say out loud but it’s a struggle. I knew right away this was going to take time so I’m setting weekly goals for myself, starting with being in bed by 10:30pm 3 times in a week. Once that becomes second nature, I’ll keep increasing on the weekly until my body is actually questioning why I’m NOT in bed at 10:30pm.
- Add Habit To Your Daily To-Do List: Forming a habit takes work. There is no easy way around it. So rather than just telling yourself that you will start to do a specific activity or behavior every day, write it down on your daily to-do list until it seems as silly as writing down “eat and drink” on your daily to-do list. Think about it, you want to make this new thing a habit because you currently are not finding the space, or the motivation to find space, for this habit. You need to write it down so that you can start to carve out time for it within your daily schedule and routine. Writing it down gives it weight and holds you responsible for actually following through with the activity once it has a place in your schedule.
- Establish a Habit Reminder: This piggy backs off of the tip to add the habit to your daily to-do list with the idea being that you might need an additional reminder to do your habit on the daily that goes one step beyond the paper. You need something that says loud and clear to you every day that you need to do this new habit, no excuses. Reminders can come in all sorts of different forms, too. Maybe your new habit could naturally be done right before or after an activity you already do automatically every day. Let that already second nature action be your reminder to do the new habit on the daily. A reminder can be an actual alarm on your phone if needed. For example, I have an actual alarm on my phone that reminds me when it is time to shut things down and head upstairs and make that 10:30pm goal. A physical object you see on the daily can also serve as a reminder. Let’s say you want to make drinking 8 glasses of water a daily habit. Use the cup or water bottle you typically use for drinking water during the day and put 8 rubber bands around the object. The bands remind you to drink but they also serve as a tracker, as you remove a band each time you finish a cup.
- Give Yourself GRACE: The first thing you need to remember during this process is that you are human and there is a chance that you slip up. The good news is that the study conducted by Lally and colleagues found that skipping a day here and there DID NOT have a significant impact on whether or not the behavior became automatic. So if you miss a day, don’t beat yourself up and throw the towel in thinking you have to give up or start over. Remember that this process is a journey and what matters isn’t that you missed a day but it’s how you are going to recover. How are you going to make sure the habit happens the next day? Giving yourself grace and being resilient and persistent is the absolute key with making your habit stick. Be stubborn with yourself and do not give up after a minor slip up.
- Celebrate Your Wins: People might have different thoughts on this because you are trying to institute a habit in your life that could arguably be something that you should already be doing. So they might think rewarding yourself for something you should already doing shouldn’t be part of the equation. Maybe you don’t go out and buy yourself an extravagant gift for reaching a milestone in your habit forming journey, but you absolutely should celebrate your wins each step of the way! When you start the process, make a timeline for yourself and set specific dates that you want to see progress. On those dates, evaluate where you are and where you have come from and then celebrate that progress! It can be as simple as saying out loud “Good Job!” but recognize the work you have put in to encourage yourself to keep moving forward!
We want to hear from you…what habits are you trying to instill in your daily routine? Do you have other tips and tricks that have been particularly helpful to you? Share them below and let’s encourage each other to keep pressing forward on turning activities we struggle with on the daily into habits we eventually feel lost without on the daily!