March 20 is a day I always remember, not only because it’s my Grandma’s birthday, but because I use it as a day to reflect and refresh my plans for the future. At first glance this may sound like a lofty to-do for one day, but I use the first day of spring as a time to make healthy resolutions and plan for the rest of the year to come. Some people use New Years, others use their birthday, but I like the idea of creating a plan to grow and mature that coincides with nature around me.
This March 20 was no different than any other. After first calling to sing Happy Birthday to my Grandma, I ventured out on a hike to one of my favorite places in L.A. After walking for little over an hour I found a nice spot to stop and reflect. I looked at all the trees and plants around me as they began to awaken and thought of my year so far. I compared my situation to that of the beautiful foliage that surrounded me, new and refreshed and ready for the next season of life. I also thought of where I hoped to be when the foliage began to change and fall approached. Where did I want to be? What did I want to be doing? And most importantly…how was I going to get there?
This spring my thoughts all centered on one theme…”I want to be healthier”. I think this is a thought that goes through many of our minds at times. However I also think it is one that many write off as being hopeless or creating time frames of achieving a more healthy lifestyle that are unrealistic. How many of you out there have heard the saying “it takes 21 days to form a new habit”? I have heard it time and time again and always think that it sounds like such a long time. What if I told you to create a habit actually takes longer?
A health psychology researcher, Phillippa Lally, at the University College London published her research in the European Journal of Social Psychology on this exact topic. Lally and her research team sought out to find exactly how long it takes to form a new habit. The study looked at 96 individuals who were given the task of creating a new habit. On average it took 66 days for the behavior to become automatic…that’s over two months! At first I too was a little discouraged. Here I was thinking 21 days was a long time, now I see the research says it may take me over 2 months to start eating healthier. It was hopeless right? WRONG!!
After looking at the research I came up with a few tips to making a habit stick and have them listed here.
1. Start Small
Many of my friends, family and patients have come to me with goals like “I am going to exercise every day”. While their enthusiasm is commendable, I often find them feeling defeated and let down after they miss one day of exercise in the first week. I too have fallen victim to this as well in the past, but have found an easy solution…start small. If you’re a “no exercise” person, begin by setting a goal to exercise one day this week, then two days next week and so on. By creating small changes in your daily routine I have found people are more successful and can celebrate the small victories at the end of the week.
2. Make a Plan
The worst thing someone can do is decide on a habit they want to change and have no idea of how they plan on making it happen. While researching Lally’s original work, We have created a free guide to take you deeper and take 5 steps to reach healthy lifestyle change goals. Sign up here to get your free guide. This guide is perfect to help with “spring resolution” planning. For many of our readers out there, the planning tool may be something you can do with a caregiver or loved one so that together you can be on the same page.
3. Don’t Get Discouraged
66 days is a long time and everyone will likely have a day they miss on their path towards developing a healthy habit. Don’t let this get you discouraged! The research also found that missing a day or two did not seem to affect an individual’s eventual success. Now this isn’t to say missing multiple consecutive days won’t hinder your habit formation, but a slip up every now and then is no big deal. If anything, use the missed day as a time to reflect on what went wrong and re-evaluate your plan for the future.
In the end we all have some things about our lives that we would like to see changed and some habits that may make us healthier and happier people. I hope these hints will lead you down a path of success and assist you in meeting your goals. And don’t forget, you always have the staff at re-active to help you along your way. One of the best ways to get some extra support is to join our private Facebook group. We are in the group every day to help encourage you in your new healthy habits. Don't forget to get your free guide: Sign up here to get your free guide!
Do you have a "spring resolution"? What healthy habit are you trying to tackle this month? We would love to hear from you! Leave us a comment or contact us in our FB group
Lally, Phillippa, et al. "How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world." European Journal of Social Psychology 40.6 (2010): 998-1009.