We’re all creatures of habit. You probably have daily routines you don’t even think about, from your morning wake-up rituals to eating habits. Most daily routines occur out necessity, but many bad habits are developed at the same time, like spending too much time on social media, eating dessert after dinner, or sitting in front of the TV when you could be doing something more productive. Luckily, bad habits can be broken, and it just takes a little time and effort to create healthy habits instead.
The good thing about deciding to create healthy habits is that it’s not that tough; it just requires repetition. When you do something at the same time every day, you have to think about it at first, but with enough repetition, it eventually becomes habit. Habits take work to form, but they’re easy to maintain and hard to break because they’re actually imprinted in your neural pathways.
When you decide to create healthy habits, it won’t happen overnight. That’s because the mental imprinting that creates the habit takes a lot of repetition. Taking exercise as an example, if you wake up at 5 A.M. on Monday to go to the gym for your first time, it won’t necessarily be easy on Tuesday. However, after a few weeks, you’ll likely start waking up without an alarm or at least not have to struggle to get out of bed to get into workout mode.
How long does it take to create healthy habits?
Creating healthy habits, or even bad habits, takes time, and there is no absolute timing rule for it to become imprinted as habit. For daily routines, it can take as little as 18 days, but the average is 66 days.
Of course, haphazard or inconsistent behavior makes it much harder to create a habit. Think about your wake schedule as an example. If you wake up at 6 A.M. Monday through Friday and decide to sleep in until 9-10 A.M. on the weekends, it becomes a serious chore to wake up at your normal time when Monday morning rolls around. The only way to make your wake schedule a habit is to stick with it even on the days you don’t have work, school, or workouts. Even on those off days, wake up and do something in place of what you’d normally do. You’ll be surprised how easy Monday mornings become.
Habits are tough to break because of the imprinting, but they’re also tough to become habit again if you let them slip. Exercise is the easiest example of how tough transitions can be. If you stop working out, you can feel a bit lost at that time of day, but the habit will eventually be broken. Once you decide you’ve had too much time off, it can feel nearly impossible to get back into it.
How to create health habits
Here are a few simple tips to help create healthy habits:
- Choose the habit, don’t let it choose you: Whether it’s meal planning, waking up early to work out, or going to bed earlier to make sure you get enough sleep, pick one thing and commit to it for two months. You can do this to replace bad habits with good ones, too.
- Do it daily: Even if the habit you’re wanting to develop is only “needed” on certain days, the only way to create a daily habit is to make it a daily
- Make it something you look forward to, and don’t slack off: There will probably be days when it’s tough to stick to whatever your new hopeful habit is, but remind yourself of why you’re doing it and remember that you have to be consistent. No snooze buttons or postponements!
- Set alarms and/or reminders: Whatever your new habit-to-be is, there’s no reason not to take advantage of technology to help. Set alarms to do things on time and use your calendar/reminder features to send occasional reminders of why you’re doing it or how much longer until it should become automatic.
- Be patient: As we mentioned, habits can be formed in as little as 18 days, but it’s often closer to two months. Every day will get easier, so the key is to focus on the goal and know that every day will get easier until you no longer need to think about it.
While it might sound like a few weeks is a long time for something to become habit, remember that it doesn’t happen overnight. It does get a bit easier every day, and if your goal is a healthy eating plan or a new exercise program, you’ll start seeing results in your body during that time, which will keep you motivated.