Tuesday, 28 July 2009

100 days to form a habit

Habits are oh-so-useful things. Because they get done automatically, they don’t get missed. So when you make something a habit, you are close to guaranteeing it gets done. Because they don’t require brain-power they are also highly time efficient - you just do them, instead of agonising and wasting time.

Brushing your teeth, eating breakfast, reaching for your first cup of coffee – all get done on auto-pilot whether or not you have added them to your To Do List.

Aristotle said: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.”
There are many things that we would like to make a habit – eating less, exercising more, doing a task every day. All things that if we only had the discipline to do, we know we would be more effective.

So – if habits can be such useful things – how do create good habits?

To form a new habit you have to ingrain it into your routine. You must do it every day, without missing a day, until the habit has been formed. There are various estimates as to how long it takes to form a habit – ranging from 21 days, 30 days to 66 days. Researchers at University College London have been studying habits as part of their research into weight loss. They suggest that it takes 66 days for a new habit to become ingrained, perhaps longer if the habit is complex. Interestingly, exercise took longer to make a habit than did a healthy eating habit.

I was interested to note that I could give up wine for 48 days over Lent but had no problem reinstating a glass of wine with dinner as soon as Easter came. I had thought I would have difficulty readjusting, but it was frighteningly easy to get back to old ways. So for me, at least, 48 days wasn’t long enough for the teetotal habit to form.

If the new habit is worthwhile, it would seem that overkill is required to try to establish it. In the spirit of The Power of Round Numbers, I am going to try 100 days to ingrain the habit of not drinking caffeine.

I’m hoping that living a caffeine-free life will mean that I sleep better, have fewer headaches and enjoy a more even temperament. My alcohol-free living didn’t produce the performance-enhancing benefits I’d hoped for, and so far cutting out caffeine has done little but given me a headache. But I’m difficult to dissuade once an idea has lodged itself, so this is day 5 and counting ….

6 comments:

  1. Habits are all dependable on Discipline .. if you lead a life full of discipline you would have no issues living a habit in one day ...
    How about a cold turkey ... they do it .. My friend quiet smoking one day all of sudden .. no issues .. It has been 10 yrs since then and no craving and nothing .
    Sheer Discipline ...
    Regards
    Sudeep

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  2. Hi! Thanks for your comment. I agree, some habits can be formed or broken pretty quickly, but others are not so easy. I gave up meat without a glance over my shoulder, but other habits have been more difficult to make stick.

    All credit to your friend - giving up nicotine is a tough one that takes a lot of discipline.

    I've given up caffeine before and been caffeine free for years, but then its crept back into my diet. Trying to banish it for good this time. No discipline needed right now, but its early days!

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  3. Hi Caroline, I'm currently trying to develop my 'writing habit'. I know I can do it ...I've done it before. It's just that the discipline of it all fell by the wayside! However after your words of inspiration today I've decided to try again and write something daily for 30 days. I promise to report back later ....I may be some time!

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  4. Hi Mary - interesting that you talk about a habit that has fallen by the wayside. I guess its not really a habit until it never falls by the wayside.

    Good luck with the 30 days of writing. I shall look forward to reading the fruits of your labours!

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  5. Interesting how pleasant experiences are faster to become habits ("exercise took longer to make a habit than did a healthy eating habit").
    Maybe the things that we don't enjoy doing will not become a habit - and we'll only be excellent at what we enjoy... Not a bad thing.

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  6. Somehow I think you have captured the essense of the problem here. Yes - absolutely - isn't it easier to make nice things a habit?

    I'm having no difficulty with abstaining from caffiene at all, in fact I have more energy than I had when I was drinking lots of caffiene-filled green tea.

    A run at 6am every morning would be a bit more difficult to get used to ....

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