It may be motivation that gets you started, but it’s habit that keeps you going—21 days.
In his book, Psycho-Cybernetics, Dr. Maxwell Maltz gives us the secret formula for forming a new habit. The key is repetition. You have to repeat the behavior consistently, until the pathways become etched in your brain. In other words, your brain will not imprint new data for a change of behavior until the new behavior is repeated each day for approximately 21 days.
OK…so this seems like boring and unattainable stuff, until you understand that repetition is the key (don’t beat yourself up if you miss a day or two).
Persistence Pays Off
The most common approach to forming a new habit is to give it the good old college try for a day or two. Hurry through the process and then quit if results are not immediate. We call it instant gratification without a transition period. I have many friends who continually threaten to start an exercise program. They keep threatening and threatening.
Once again: Motivation might get you started, but it’s habit that keeps you going. Thinking about it won’t form a new habit.
Isn’t it interesting how bad habits creep up on you without any effort on your part? Replacing those bad habits with new productive habits requires self-discipline and a positive attitude. It takes a great deal of courage to follow a path of improvement.
TIP: Consider writing down all of the benefits that the good habit will add to your life.
Do not burden yourself with unrealistic commitments. Take small steps. For instance, when starting an exercise program, try one day a week and then increase the frequency.
TIP: The days do not need to be consecutive, but the weeks do.
Here is a personal effort that I will share with you: I moved to Colorado many years ago. It didn’t take me long to realize that my skin was crying out for water in this dry climate. Now, I truly hate water. What is there to like about water? No taste, nothing new to offer the taste buds. Everyone around me was sucking frantically on water bottles while I chose to occasionally drink juice out of a glass. I realized that I needed to form a new habit, but knew that I could not physically drink the required eight glasses a day. So I made the decision to start small.
I like to relax at night watching my favorite programs on television—a good time to drink one glass of water (the other seven would come later). I can tolerate a glass of water if I add ice and lemon or lime. I drank a glass of water every night for 21 consecutive days, and then decided to keep going. I didn’t realize until a year later that I could not go to bed at night without drinking a glass of water. Drinking water had become a habit! I am now working on a second glass in the morning and on taking a water bottle with me when hiking.
Focus on One Habit at a Time
Someone once said, “If you don’t make a decision to change, all you’ve got is what you’ve already got now.”
Bad habits are easily identifiable—procrastination, smoking, using a snooze alarm, holding onto grudges, not keeping paper flowing to its final destination. Losing those bad habits and replacing them with good ones is a slow process. Self-discipline and commitment are keys to success.
Identify one new habit-forming project at a time. Possibilities to consider:
- Get rid of activities that do not add value.
- Change your environment. Simplify the world around you—remove the clutter and maintain the result.
- Consume less. The more you consume, the more you have to manage. Shop less and when you do shop, remember the one-in, one-out, rule. How often do you rid yourself of the old stuff to make room for the new?
- Under-schedule your day, leaving time for yourself and those urgent matters that pop up unexpectedly.
- Take time to eat well and sleep well to increase your health.
- Avoid cluttered surfaces (including the floor) and drawers. Assign a place for everything and put everything back in its place.
- Let go of those grudges. Grudges take up space in our daily lives, leaving our hearts and spirits depressed.
- Teach your children good habits through example.
These are all tough habits to create, particularly if you have to break a bad habit along the way. It never hurts to have an accountability partner to check on your progress—someone who will be ruthless about helping you accomplish your goal. The same partner will be there to help you celebrate.
The following quotation says it all:
Creating a new habit can be seen as creating a path of worn grass in a public lawn. If you walk through a path once, it won’t do anything to the grass. If you walk for 5 days, you might get something that resembles a path, but if you stop doing it, the lawn will quickly recover and your path will disappear. What if you walk through the same path, every day during a month? You’ll probably create a permanent “worn grass” path! (GoalEnforcer, “Forming New Habits,” Sept. 2006)
Reminder - focus on one good habit at a time. It can be as simple as creating a spot for your car keys and always putting them back in that spot when not in use.
Stay positive. Stay committed. Then enjoy!
About the Author
Sally Allen, a certified professional organizer, is CEO and owner of A Place for Everything©. Since founding her company in 1997, Sally has helped individuals and companies throughout the U.S. effectively arrange space and efficiently manage time. A recognized expert in the field, Sally learned her organizing skills while employed by Marriott International Hotels and Resorts, the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Committee, the 1996 Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games, and through moving her family 19 times.