We can change a old habit but it will never die. The definition of change is to become something different. I had a love-hate relationship with fitness. When I first met my husband, my husband (not at the time but soon to be) was a personal trainer and I was one of those very skinny fat people. A good metabolism and no children made a body good but I was very unhealthy. I ate so many bad things, I smoked (secretly from my then boyfriend who hated it), I drank socially, I hated working out but my husband inspired me to change some of my ways-smoking, physical inactivity. It was great! I began forming new habits I began to change and become something different. Just like any journey we take we start off somewhere and we end up somewhere completely different. But just because we are in that new place doesn’t erase where we came from. Habits are just like that, never dying always there but new ones can be formed that are better for you and what you want to continue.
What do we know?
I am sure you have heard that it takes 21 days to create a habit. Why is that? A habit is basically a pattern of behavior that gets “worn into our brain.” Everything we do (and think, for that matter) is governed by impulses firing across synapses, or spaces between certain cells that guide communication.
That is why sometime when you are driving home from work and you can seem on autopilot. For instance, say you add something to your schedule such as “pick up milk before I get home.” You mentally remind yourself before you leave your office yet, you drive straight home only to open the refrigerator and realize; “I forgot to pick up the milk before I came home.” We have all done something like that because we are in the habit of doing certain task one way and when we add something different we have to make a conscious effort to change that habit.
When any behavior or pattern is repeated enough, the synaptic pathways associated with that pattern get used to being accessed. As a result, it becomes easier for impulses to travel along those pathways, and the behavior seems “natural.” In other words, to the brain, drive straight home, is practically instinctive. One action triggers the next.
I am sure that you have tried other programs and they have told you “In three weeks this will become second nature” and you have been skeptical, first how can you make a drastic change in your life so quickly and second, how are you going to be able to stay on track for 3 weeks or 21 days. It is possible but it all depends on “how bad do you want it?”
So, is this kind of making sense to you? Let me give you some scientific background of how and why you need more than three weeks to create a lifetime habit?
What don’t we know?
The pattern-enforcing synaptic pathways are able to be programmed. There is no real known origin of the 21 day rule, there is a book called “Psycho-Cybernetics” by Maxwell Maltz, which was a self-help book that was published in the 1970s reprinted in 1989. Psycho-Cybernetics, stated that it takes 21 days to create or break a habit. The evidence gathered from that book was based on practical experiences and not clinical experiences. It has been used in a most programs since then. It has been proven that most people can adapt or change a bad habit in 21 days but as far as brain waves, and any other research to back up the claim there is no known origin.
We all know that is easier to pick up a habit then it is to break a habit. Especially, if you enjoy it or it relieves some form of stress or anxiety such as nail biting, smoking, over eating, etc. If you repeat a behavior often enough your synaptic pathways are going to become programmed. The human brain is an adaptive organ and adapts to its surroundings very easily. Does it actually take 21 days, who knows, sometimes it takes 15 days others it take 25 days but generally speaking by the 21st day a habit becomes second nature. Everyone is different and every brain is different but a key to habit formation is dependent on the experience and the personality of the individual. If it goes against the grain it might take longer for you to adapt hence why you may “fall off the wagon.” It’s not because you didn’t program your brain you are not enjoying the experience which is why when trying to break a habit you need to find something that is pleasurable to you to replace it and allow new synaptic pathways to form.
Breaking a habit is a lot more complicated, because while parts of those worn-in pathways can weaken without use, they never go away [source: Rae-Dupree]. They can be reactivated with the slightest provocation [source: Delude]. If you’ve ever tried to quit smoking, you already know this. You can go a year without a cigarette, and then give in one time and BANG, the habit comes right back.
The best you can do, then, is to form a new, parallel pattern, like exercising when you feel stress, rather than indulge the old pattern, which triggers “cigarette” in response to stress. I also find that praying is comforting and stress relieving and as I reflecting in my Honor Your Temple Prayer Challenge is an optimal solution to help you break a bad habit. This is also, why “falling off the wagon” becomes so easy. You have already programmed yourself and unfortunately creating new and better habits is not a reset button it is more of a pause button on those habit that you no longer desire but don’t know how to break and re-record.
Let’s be real it is really going to probably take 60 days to truly break a habit. 21-30 days (Take into account personality differences) to change the habit and then another 30 days to reinforce that change and create a strong synaptic pathway that will be sustaining.
When I used to work in professional organizing I would work with my clients for a minimum of 60 days. I created a new habit timeline for them to follow that may help you form a new and better habit this year too.
Week 5-8: Find an accountability partner, group, etc. someone to check in with weekly and tell you them of the success you have made. It’s easier to be held accountable once you have already made the change versus while you are trying to change. It is less discouraging if you have change or setbacks. Also, this is a personal change and you can’t let outside influences effect inside transformations. Continue this transformation. Continue to keep track and expand on it if possible. Sign up for cooking courses, 5k’s, competitions, or something to practice your new change with. Reward yourself at the end of each week with something of value to you. By Week 8 you should have two habits; one is the habit you’ve wished to transform; the other is a new habit. Once you achieve that keep in mind that “Old habits don’t die!”