[there is] considerable variation in how long it takes people to reach their limit of automaticity … “
BOTTOM LINE: 66 days was purely a number attained from this one specific article for very basic lifestyle behaviours (healthy eating, drinking water, or exercising).
Can you slack off when forming new habits?
It turns out that missing a day here and there is NOT a big deal, but going a full week or more will hinder your success.
I think this is interesting because during this New Year time we tend to go ALL OUT and we try to master our new habits right out of the gate, full steam ahead. And then, we get down on ourselves when we don’t keep up with our chosen new habit every single day.
When we get into this “push” mentality we’ll often use force and willpower to keep going – and this kind of willful energy can drain our energy reserves fast! It is my belief, that having a more skillful approach, such as being more calculated for when and how we instil our new habits, as well as giving ourselves realistic expectations, and simply being nice to ourself while in this process is the key to succeeding.
So, what behaviour are you attempting to shift and change?
It seems that depending on the type of behaviour that needs changing, the bigger and more challenging the change that greater the amount of skill you’ll require.
Everybody has their own tactic.
For example, if you’re trying to drink more water every day you could try putting post-it note reminders all over your house, or you can program a timer on your watch or phone to go off every two hours.
But – if the existing behaviour that we need to change is rooted DEEP in the matrix of our entire being (primarily our biology and neurochemical patterning) you’re going to need a more powerful tactic, or 66 days, or a positive affirmation, or a time on your fancy new watch.
It’s also important to mention that shifting these behaviours will also depend on how other individuals in your life (like your spouse, family, etc.) are wired in their own nervous system physiology, social engagement strategies and attachment biology (after all, it takes two to tango!).
When our behaviours are influenced by others, the shifting of habits is not so cut and dry.
Drinking more water = cut and dry.
Shifting an inter-personal behaviour is a way of life, not a ‘simple’ short-term project. This, I believe, is why so many of us fail with big-picture health goals.
It deserves a lifestyle approach without a start or end date.
How Young University students influence what we believe will work for us:
The other interesting thing with this piece of research (as with most social psychology research) is that they studied university students who were eager to cash in 30 British pounds for partaking in the 12-week study.
When such pieces of research are quoted, we often forget to ask questions like, “Who was being studied?” and “what was their incentive?” etc.
This is ever-present when you hear about mindfulness and its changes on the brain, or the impact of various foods on immune system health.
The bulk of what our research tell us is in reference to those who are younger and middle to upper class – those living in an affluent Western world.
It is their brains and humans systems we are learning from, comparing ourselves to and attempting to “copy.”
[Unless of course, it is field or epidemiological research wherein the study is actually investigating a specific population of people, such as the elderly, or sick, or male, female, tribal or city-folk etc.]
For example, if we were to take many of these studies into native tribes in South America, the nomadic cultures of Mongolia, or even a less than perfect sample of Westerners, the results would have massive variation…they’d be different. For a completely different sample size and demographic it might show that we need 10, or 10,000 days to shift a habit!
Or even, heaven forbid, a lifetime. 🙂
Massive uniqueness and individuality:
Here’s the thing – how we change or adopt a new habit or behaviour is complex and is dependant on SO many factors.
What the research says usually doesn’t apply to us (unless we are within that University population).
If you are on a track to shift something this year, first ask yourself this question:
Why do I want this? (Is it for me or is it for someone else? Is it because society deems it important?)
If you can answer that question, and the answer you get is a big “YES I WANT TO DO THIS,” that speaks up from your internal and instinctual biological desire for health and wellness, and not from vanity, outside pressure, or social agreements, then, and only then, should you start to seek out the support, guidance and protocols to instil this newly desired behaviour.