What does it take to create a new habit?
How long does it take before new thoughts and behaviours replace old ones to become your default setting?
How long does it take to develop a habit?
I’d love to have definitive answers for you but, as you can imagine, it depends… It depends on your starting point, how often you practice your new thinking pattern or other behaviour, the quality and consistency of your practice and more.
The important thing to remember is as long as you continue activating your new thinking or behaviour consistently in a given situation, a habit will form.
Because there is no definitive answer regarding the length of time it takes (no, it’s not necessarily 21 days) and because there may well be times when you wobble and wonder if things will ever get easier, it’s essential to proactively seek sources of support and inspiration.
You have to find ways to stay in the game to win it!
When I want to develop a new habit, one effective source of inspiration is reminding myself what the research on neuroplasticity tells us.
Neuroplasticity: the ability to redesign our brain
I recently watched a documentary called Redesign My Brain on ABC TV. (Now it is a three-parter but I felt moved to recommend it after viewing only the first episode – so take this as a plug for Episode 1: Make Me Smarter. I am keen to watch the remaining two episodes, Make Me Creative and Mind Over Matter, as well.)
The premise of the first episode is that Dr Michael Merzenich (a pioneer in the neuroplasticity revolution) mentors our narrator, Australian TV personality Todd Sampson to make impressive changes in the function of his brain. Todd is shown how to radically improve his cognition with activities that “turbo charge” his thinking speed, attention and memory in just one month.
The results of Todd’s four weeks of brain training are fantastically encouraging!
Here are a few of the interesting and inspiring take-away messages from the show:
- “We can all improve on the brain we were born with”
- “What the research is showing is that attention is far more about suppressing distractions than it is about enhancing what you’re paying attention to”
- “It’s clear, the brain needs dedicated focus to be attentive and multi-tasking is a fallacy. (For example, we know that) using your phone behind the wheel reduces your driving ability by a third.”
- “If you say it (out loud), then you’re more likely to do it.” (This direction was given to Todd when he was learning to juggle: “Say ‘right, left, catch, catch’ as you throw and catch the balls.” Where else could you apply this strategy in your life?)
- “At any age we can give our thinking a turbo boost”
- “With practice, it gets better. Half an hour ago this felt so unnatural and so uncomfortable and (yet) with a little bit of practice I reckon I could become quite good at this!” (This was Todd’s comment about learning to juggle and it’s certainly applicable to other things in life.)
I can use these take-aways in my own life. I can also use them to help my weight loss clients who want to develop new habits and need inspiration and information to help them stay the course as well.
What about you?
Do you want to create new habits or strengthen particular behaviours?
If you do then you are probably already aware you must be consistent with a process known as ‘context-dependent repetition’ – i.e. you need to repeat the desired behaviour in the appropriate context.
You are likely to find it easier to be consistent with the repetition required to develop a habit if you are utterly convinced that taking repeated action will a. bring about the desired result and b. do so in an acceptable timeframe.
Sometimes our belief in the process may not be as positive as we might like; we might not be 100% sure our actions will pay off or that they’ll pay off quickly enough. In these cases we can decide to consciously have faith in the process of ‘context-dependent repetition’. At the same time we can consciously work on strengthening our beliefs. Keep looking for support and inspiration and use this technique to increase your helpful beliefs.
Remember, to stay the course you must be convinced it is possible for you to do it and that it will be rewarding.
This is true for weight loss, taking a new product to market, finding your dream home, becoming a non-smoker or achieving any other goal you can think of.
*** For anyone struggling with weight loss, there is always a need to strengthen and embed positive thoughts about your ability to achieve your goal. I’ve written loads on creating an empowering mindset and you can read exactly how to do this for weight loss here. ***