As part of my #OEASIMPLIFY19 project, I’m working hard to re-establish good habits in several areas. But how will habits help me simplify?
Once something becomes a habit, you no longer have to think about or motivate yourself to do it, self control is no longer required; it’s something you just do. Life becomes less stressful and simpler when some decisions and choices are premade (by you, not others of course). Habits and routines can also be comforting; our brains know what to expect, as some decisions have become automatic, thus freeing us up to think about other things and use energy in other ways.
Habits are easy, once well established but establishing them can be extremely challenging. It takes self-control to create a habit and that’s the hard bit. “Habits are hard to alter, and that’s why developing a good habit is really worth the struggle; once you’re used to (insert desired habit) you don’t have to exert much self-control to keep it up.” – Gretchen Rubin.
21 days is often cited as the time it takes to establish a habit, a figure related to the time patients took to look at themselves in a new way following plastic surgery or losing a limb way back in the 1960s. This was generalised to all ‘habits’. Makes sense, right? Maybe not. Research done this century indicates this is an oversimplification and that habits take considerably longer to become automatic. Whilst everyone is different and difficulty of habits varies, the average time required to develop a new habit is now thought to be 66 days, just over three times the old magic 21 figure. But this needn’t be depressing. Yes, it will take longer to establish a habit, but cut yourself some slack and allow yourself that extra time. Don’t beat yourself up if you still haven’t mastered a new habit within the magical 21 day window. Some participants in Phillippa Lally’s study took over 200 days, so stick with it! If it’s a habit worth having, it’s worth working on until it becomes automatic, no matter how long that is. Einstein attributed his genius to the ability to stick with problems longer than others in order to find solutions. The genius habit-builder sticks with it until the habit is established.
One habit I’m currently cultivating is early morning walks. They get me out of bed even during holidays, get me outside for some fresh air and vitamin D before the sun becomes too fierce, get me moving plus my little dog is always grateful. One morning this week, I awoke with a fuzzy head, a migraine headache brewing. I really didn’t want to walk but I did it anyway, because that’s what I do in the mornings now, right? I put on my morning walk outfit which I’d laid out before heading to bed (no excuses or delays allowed) and set out. Once outside, I felt slightly better. The breeze rustled in the trees, cooling me as I walked the familiar neighbourhood loop. Along the route, I heard but didn’t see the neighbourhood eaglet in its nest, spotted fish swimming in the shallows of the canal, stepped aside to allow cyclists past, greeted other dog walkers, all pretty standard stuff; nothing out of the ordinary. That was until we met a family of black swans – Mum, Dad and three cygnets. We often see a single swan on the canals and small lakes which surround our suburb and my husband has named it Sammy but I’d never seen Sammy’s family before this day. I paused my walk to simply watch and enjoy. Even my excitable little dog was silent and still, peering between fence railings, almost eye to eye with these strange new creatures. Mum and her down-covered grey babies groomed themselves and swam happily in the shallows, occasionally glancing in our direction, as Dad kept guard, quietly hissing once or twice, warning us to come no closer. These wild creatures allowed us surprisingly near, as we quietly observed their little family going about their morning baths. It was a real treat and what a great reward for working at establishing my morning walk habit when I didn’t really want to.
Are you working on cultivating or changing any habits at the moment? Do you struggle to establish positive habits? Join me in taking Einstein’s advice and stick with it longer.
Burkeman, O – How long does it really take to change a habit? https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2009/oct/10/change-your-life-habit-28-day-rule
Dean, S – Here’s How Long It Really Takes To Break A Habit, According To Science. https://www.sciencealert.com/how-long-it-takes-to-break-a-habit-according-to-science
Rubin, G – Stop Expecting to Change Your In Habit 21 Days https://www.psychologytoday.com/au/blog/the-happiness-project/200910/stop-expecting-change-your-habit-in-21-days
Rubin, G – Better Than Before. Mastering the habits of our everyday lives. Two Roads, UK, 2015.