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10 Simple Ways to Build Better Habits

by Trisha Dunbar 4 months ago in goals
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And the 21-day myth you keep getting told!

10 Simple Ways to Build Better Habits
Photo by Nubelson Fernandes on Unsplash

There is a misconception that it takes 21 days to form a habit. In reality, forming a habit depends on the individual and the changes that one wishes to make. The misconception stems from a plastic surgeon called Dr. Maxwell Maltz.

Back in the 1950s, Dr. Maltz observed a pattern emerging from his patients. It seemed on average it took a minimum of 21 days for a patient to readjust and accept the life-changing surgery that had altered their appearance. This observation left Dr. Maltz to question his own experiences.

“These, and many other commonly observed phenomena tend to show that it requires a minimum of about 21 days for an old mental image to dissolve and a new one to jell.” — Dr. Maxwell Maltz (1960), Psycho-Cybernetics.

However, here is how the misconception started as over the years self-help gurus have misquoted and shortened the minimum of 21 days to the belief that it takes ‘only‘ 21 days to form a habit! This is simply not true and habit formation depends on many different factors.

The author of The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg wrote that habits are not born, but created. Every bad, good or insignificant habit starts with a psychological pattern that he referred to as a “habit loop.”


The three-fold process of the Habit Loop

  • ACCEPTANCE: The first step is the trigger that tells your brain to acceptance of certain behavior.
  • ROUTINE: The second step is the behavior itself, or the routine it creates, and finally the
  • REWARD: The final step is the reward, or “something that your brain likes that helps it remember the ‘habit loop’ in the future.
  • = HABIT: Charles Duhigg believed that only once the three steps above had been completed then a new habit called ve formed.


How long does it really take to build a new habit?

A research study conducted by Dr. Phillipa Lally, (2009) concluded that on average it took 2 months (66 days) for a new behavior pattern to become automatic and the participants to start seeing noticeable results.

“To change a habit, make a conscious decision, then act out the new behaviour.” — Dr. Maxwell Maltz

20 days to accept the new behavior pattern as observed by Dr. Maltz, and then as highlighted by Duhigg a further 20 days to build a routine, and finally 20 days to ensure you are rewarding the brain for the new routine it is establishing.


So, what are the 10 simple ways to build new habits…

1. Stop with the Self-judging

Research shows it can take months to build a new habit NOT weeks. So don’t be hard on yourself if you are not seeing the desired benefits straight away. 21 days is merely the point of acceptance and recognition. Push past this phrase to see true success.

2. Let go of perfectionism

It is worth noting that making a mistake once or twice has no measurable impact on your long-term habits. This is why you should treat failure like a scientist, give yourself permission to make mistakes, and develop strategies for getting back on track quickly!

3. Get into a daily routine

Your brain loves routine and habits are more likely to take effect if you work on a good daily routine. You will need to stick at this routine for a minimum of 66 days before it starts to become automatic. So choose a time that you can stick to on a daily basis.

4. Discipline over motivation

There are a lot of articles on improving motivation, but this can be another misconception. The most successful of people will tell you that it is a discipline rather than motivation key. They continue even when motivation is low. Discipline drives motivation so pushing through the difficult patches will help motivate you in the future.

5. Learn to love the process

Remember habits are a process rather than a goal with a deadline. You need to embrace and enjoy the process.

6. Breaking goals into small chunks

New habit formation will work best when you set small manageable daily or weekly goals rather than focusing on everything all at once! Focusing on the bigger picture can sometimes feel overwhelming especially in the beginning.

7. Stop paying attention to negativity

Don’t pay attention to the negativity of others or even your own thoughts! when forming a new goal. What they are really revealing is how they feel about themselves. Equally, it’s your own choice if you listen to your own negativity or choose to push past this. The most successful of people accept this is a stage that we all go through when building new habits and have learned through experience that it will pass.

8. Don’t focus on the number

21/66/ 100 they are all but numbers, if you goal is a number then learn to love the process that will get you there, and reflect upon your progress at regular intervals. Not making the progress you want? Reflect on goals and pivot if you have to just don’t give up!

9. If we always do what we have always done...

“If we always do what we have always done, we will always get what we have always got“. — Henry Ford

If we keep doing the same things we will always get the same results. If you want to form a new habit then you must embrace change.

10. Get Accountable for your actions

I read a blog post once that said keep goals to yourself, actually, the opposite is true hold yourself publicly accountable for your goals and actions. You never know who might be able to help you or inspire you to continue when you feel like giving up. Recently I took part in a 30-day writing challenge. I posted my goals and actions and had some wonderful community support.

Originally published by Trisha Dunbar in the blog 'Language Learners Journal', 2018.

Recommended Reading:

Psycho-Cybernetics, A New Way to Get More Living Out of Life

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business

The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg


About the author

Trisha Dunbar

Rambling of written words | Reader of things | Drinker of coffee | Doer of stuff | Welcome to my profile 😊

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