So how do you break old routines and create healthy habits?
If you do the research, you’ll find that, unfortunately, change doesn’t happen overnight. There are several different studies on the time it actually takes for new habits to become automatic – many show that it takes at least 21 days to start a new habit, several say 66 days, and some studies even claim that it can take as many as 254 days.
The one thing these studies all have in common is that it takes time.
So that lofty goal to run four miles every morning, hit up the gym five times a week, and have a beach body in a month when you’ve spent years living a sedentary lifestyle might not be so practical.
Fortunately, there are a few simple tips to help you set and actually keep your new goals.
Keep Your Goals Small
Often times we take on more than we can handle when it comes to setting new goals. We want to complete a full marathon, because bigger goals sound good, right? And we do really great at hitting up the gym everyday that first week, or meditating for a half hour before bed for the first couple of days. But schedules can be unpredictable and hectic – one missed day at the gym can lead to two, which suddenly feels like failure. Our motivation starts to slide, and all too soon we find our goals on a slippery slope, falling back into old patterns.
By starting off small, you are less likely to feel overwhelmed because you are not expecting high-level performance from yourself. Rather, you are trying to become the type of person who can stick to this easy, new habit. Once the behavior becomes consistent, then you can build up the performance level.
Maybe you do have a goal to get in shape. Great! But instead of attempting to go from couch to kickin’ it right off the bat, start off simple. Shoot for running only a quarter mile a day (instead of four) the first week. As time progresses, slowly bump up the distance. Or if your goal is to read a book for an hour every evening, begin by reading only five minutes for the first week. Five minutes is totally doable and you’ll find it much easier to commit.
From there you can continue to increase your exercise time or increase your reading time (or whatever your goal may be) little by little as you adjust to your new habit.
This can be true of all new goals. Want to get out of debt? Start by saving an extra $15 a week. Ready to quit drinking those five cans of Dr. Pepper every day? Replace one can of soda with a bottle of water each day. Trying to stop snacking on junk food throughout the day? Carry along a baggie of carrots and raisins to munch on for your typical afternoon snack.
As your new, smaller habits begin to form, you’ll find them becoming a permanent part of your routine and a permanent part of your life.