I once read somewhere – a study, a research paper, an article quoting a study/research paper – that says it takes 29 days to form a new habit. And the number stuck with me so much so that I have found myself quoting that number “29” to people when we talked about starting a new project or trying to form a new habit. After all 29 tends to stand out because it’s not quite 28 days or 4 weeks, and it isn’t the rounded 30 days, or “one month.” It’s right in the middle at 29 days. (Forgiveness to the 31 day months)
But it turns out it’s all bullhooey. Sorry, one of my new habits is trying to swear less. It’s nonsense. Many of the people – gurus like Tony Robbins and the like are saying it takes 21 days to form a new habit. But it turns out that is a misinterpretation of something written in Maxwell Maltz’ Psycho-Cybernetic book. I’ve read the book by Maltz a former plastic surgeon turned “psychologist” and I recommend it. In it Dr. Maltz speaks of boosting one’s optimism and self-perception because no matter how much you change your outside, if you don’t believe it inside none of it carries forward. In the book however he did mention that the minimum amount of time it could take for people to get used to a plastic surgery procedure (or the opposite when someone has an arm amputated) was 21 days.
The minimum of 21 days soon turned into “it only takes 21 days to form a new habit.”
For those interested in making a habit – as in the traditional garb worn by nuns check out this lovely post from Sister Julie, but otherwise continue reading about forming habits below.
A study by Phillippa Laddy at the University College London observed participants over a 12 week period and discovered that it takes a lot longer; in fact an average of 66 days to pick up the new habit with a fairly wide extrapolated rage of 18 days to 254 days. (Source: Huffington Post article by James Clear)
So when people tell you it takes 21 days to form a new habit, they really mean over 2 months (on average.) For regular folks like you and me, it could take longer. As for sewing a habit this could take considerably longer given the clandestine nature of habit makers. (Sorry, Sister Julie’s plight has really gotten to me.)
The Key to Success
The consensus in forming a new habit is consistency. Setting a goal will help you visualize the end game. Sometimes creating a vision board, or one of those little thermometers that fundraisers use to illustrate how close they are help you reach success. You could always pay a bully to beat you up if you don’t follow through on your new habit forming, but dealing with bullies always has an end-game all too different than what you really want. Just know you are your worst enemy, so no need to outsource that part. Stay professional.
I can imagine that 21 days is a much more attractive number than 66, and definitely even 66 is much more attractive than 254 days to form that new habit you want – whether it is running every day, going to the gym, giving up coffee, drinking more water, giving up smoking, doing something nice, donating to charity, sending comedians gift cards in the mail, smiling more, etc. – keep in mind the real key to success is taking it day by day.
One day at a time.
Sometimes we get so wrapped up in the end-game, the what we will look like or be like at the end, we almost lose ourselves in the imaginary self. We are trying to distract ourselves from the actual work involved. It’s like imagining you winning the lottery and what you’ll do with the millions you win, without spending the $1 to buy the ticket.
It’s one reason we are always looking for short-cuts, magic pills, and how-to-life-hacks. And the more you read up on all that stuff you realize that it’s a matter of putting in the work.
On the other hand, the flip side and the aggravating aspect of life is that there is always an outlier. There are just some examples of quick results, minimal-effort-turned-millionaire-idea, I-ate-dragon-fruit-for-breakfast-lunch-dinner-and-lost-80-pounds person that we forget the MILLIONS if not BILLIONS of people that it doesn’t work for.
It takes 21 days plus 29 days plus 66 days plus 254 days of putting your mind right down to it. One day at a time. If you don’t believe me (although you should) just ask any alcoholic. The whole concept of forming a new habit or breaking the old one is to do it one day at a time.
Forming A New Habit
So why am I talking about this?
I was chatting with a friend that completed a form of the Whole30 challenge where the person(s) eat healthier by including more real food like eggs, meat, seafood, vegetables, some fruits and basically rid your diet of processed/pre-packaged foods and all types of sugar.
His results were incredible in that quantitatively he lost 13 pounds, but qualitatively his whole outlook at diet, eating and being healthy has changed. In his measured and soft-spoken voice he said he just feels better, excited about continuing to include vegetables and making smarter choices everyday in his meals. This Whole30 challenge was one way for him to create a new habit. The real work now is to see if the habit sticks.
Recently I got blood-test results that said I was awesome, but below that it indicated that my cholesterol levels are high. High to the point where either I was a 60 year old barbarian meat-eater, a brontosaurus or a combination of the two.
Upon getting the news I opted to research as much as I can on the trusty Internet and fill my head with as much Internet nonsense as I could so I could somehow lower my cholesterol levels naturally. I believe I have a genetic pre-disposition for a higher cholesterol, and after reading up on statins, the drug used to lower cholesterol (Lipitor for example) I’m really uncertain that drugs are going to be the right answer for me. Side effects aside are drugs ever the answer? In some cases yes. In my case I want to believe no. Research has shown statins are great for those developing cardiovascular disease but not so effective on secondary prevention. Don’t get me started on Big Pharma.
Even if I decide to change my diet there is a mountain of research that says the foods you eat don’t really have an impact on your cholesterol levels.
With all that to mess with my mind I have still decided to cut out on most of my dairy – butter, milk and cheeses, cut down on meat significantly, increase my vegetables, and legumes (because of the fibre) and do my best to go 28-30 days without sugar.
I’m 2 days in and doing okay. I say this because sugar is addictive as crack with potentially similar health concerns, maybe not so much the same social concerns. For one sugar is way cheaper than crack. Plus you can openly eat sugar in the mall around children. (As in the form of ice cream, chocolate, or straight up shovel loose sugar by the spoonful.
The more I read about the inflammation caused by sugar I feel that this might help me naturally with my cholesterol but truth is, because of the genetic predisposition it might not do anything at all. So I’m here trying to form a new habit and it might not help at all. It’s like walking up on a stairway to heaven on an escalator going down. How’s that for imagery? (Seriously, first the lottery ticket analogy and then this escalator? Duuude I’m 2 for 2.)
Method to the MaDNeSs
The mayhem in all this is that there are just too many variables. Part of me wants to cut out just sugar. Maybe that’s the key. I’ll know in 3 months when I get my blood checked and see if its effected my cholesterol. I hope it doesn’t effect my levels of awesome. (Is it effect or affect? Dang-nabbit)
I’m not 100% sure it’s just sugar. So while I’m making conscious decision to eat differently I’m not 100% sure any of this will make a lick of difference.
I believe in the long run kicking sugar out of my diet as best I can will be a long term investment in my overall health.
The thing that has bugged me with all this is I don’t smoke, I don’t drink, I eat well, exercise, I don’t have diabetes, or heart diseases, and I certainly don’t eat meats, eggs, or other high fatty foods in excess. But I still have high cholesterol.
More frustrating is giving up sugar isn’t as easy as giving up other food like bacon, or red-meat.
Sugar: The Drug of Choice
I started my “cut out sugar” on a Monday only to find out by dinner the soup I was eating from Trader Joe’s had milled cane sugar.
What is soup doing with sugar?
It’s hard to give something up with companies are sneaking that drug into foods you didn’t think would have it. But there you go. I guess that’s why this Whole30 challenge is a good idea because it’s telling you to focus on whole food with no short cuts. I shouldn’t be buying the tetra-pack of vegetable soup but making my own. That way I can be sure there is no sugar.
Here’s to forming a new habit. I’m going to try for 30 days of cutting sugar out. Hopefully my next post about this isn’t a psychotic rant about the evils of society or about voices in my head trying to get me. I’m aware of the leveling effects sugar has on my mood, so here’s hoping for a whole 30 days of clean living, clean thoughts. Kind of like how nuns live.
Which reminds me can someone help out a nun looking for materials to make a habit?