Putting Habit into practice and practice into Habit! A scientific revelation.
We have all heard the term “fitness is a lifestyle” many a time, but still a lot of us fail to put it into practice. Why? Let’s understand a few things about habits. The word habit is defined as “something that you do often and regularly, sometimes without knowing that you are doing it.” Just like washing your hands after using the washroom. Most of us don’t need to be told to wash our hands, we just do it, this is a habit. Now, How long does it take to form a habit? Phillippa Lally is a health psychology researcher at University College London. In a study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, Lally and her research team decided to figure out just how long it actually takes to form a habit. The study examined the habits of 96 people over a 12-week period. Each person chose one new habit for the 12 weeks and reported each day on whether or not they did the behavior and how automatic the behavior felt. Some people chose simple habits like “drinking a bottle of water with lunch.” Others chose more difficult tasks like “running for 15 minutes before dinner.” At the end of the 12 weeks, the researchers analysed the data to determine how long it took each person to go from starting a new behavior to automatically doing it. The answer? On average, it takes more than 2 months before a new behavior becomes automatic — 66 days to be exact. And how long it takes a new habit to form can vary widely depending on the behavior, the person, and the circumstances. In Lally's study, it took anywhere from 18 days to 254 days for people to form a new habit. In other words, if you want to set your expectations appropriately, the truth is that it will probably take you anywhere from two months to eight months to build a new behavior into your life — not 21 days. Interestingly, the researchers also found that “missing one opportunity to perform the behavior did not materially affect the habit formation process.” In other words, it doesn’t matter if you miss the activity a few times. Building better habits is not an all-or-nothing process. Hence, the notion that if you do something for over 21 days it is most likely going to become a habit is not completely true. How to put this into practice to build routines: Now that we know that habits can take up to 254 days to become a behavioral pattern, let us see how we can make them into sustainable routines. Routines do not require conscious effort or thought. Although there are multiple strategies to form a routine, an important one is to develop a structure to your day such that fewer decisions need to be made. When presented with a choice, individuals typically pick the option that is the easiest, quickest, and most enjoyable. For e.g. you go out with friends for dinner, you are following a structured diet and you know that you are supposed to eat rice and dal or chicken and rice for dinner, but you end up eating a pizza/pasta or any other food that the others around you are eating. Why? As it is easiest, quickest and most enjoyable option. How do you change that, give yourself no choice, make the process of choosing food (in this case) limited and also make the food enjoyable in your head. If you notice, people who are most successful or with the best physiques are those who have unknowingly attached pleasure to the process of this change, they don’t give themselves choices and take action in the direction of the change. Put habits into practice and practice into habits. So make a decision, give yourself 254 days to create a new you. Pick one activity, that you will do for 254 days straight (make it simple and doable). For e.g. going for 254 gym sessions (obviously with adequate rest in between as per your plan). Make a note of the activity and plan on how you can do it. Remember, Research also shows that making too many changes too fast will also result in behavioral relapse(don’t make and chase short term unrealistic goals). Take small steps. Break down your goals by setting smaller weekly and daily Targets. Now that you have a plan, an important step would be, learning to associate pleasure in activities that will help you get to your goal. Lastly, limit your choices (as they make decision making easier) and the routines adherence will become infinitely easier. All the best!!