Cultivating Good Habits

Habits: The Good & The Bad –

I’ve been thinking about doing this topic for a while now. But haven’t gotten around to it, because…well, bad habits got in the way. Actually, it might be more accurate to say the lack of any habits contributed to the delay.

It’s been five months since I’ve made the move from big city to small town. And somewhere in that time I lost my good habits…the ones that took me months and years to instill in myself. (What a bummer, right?) I only had two actual “good habits” worth mentioning: 1) doing yoga, and 2) eating healthy. But I felt proud of them, because I worked really hard to make them habits.

But somewhere amongst the change of everything, I lost my good habits. And that’s not a good feeling, because it was totally preventable. Yet, I am only human, and I fail…a lot. That sounds bad, but it’s true. And it’s not just me…everyone fails, A LOT.

Luckily for us, life is what we make of it! I could let my failures get me down and stop me from trying. I know I have in the past, but life can be so much more. It has so much more to offer, and all we have to do is TRY. I’ve had good habits in the past, and I’ll have good habits in the future.

All I have to do is want it enough to try, and try again, and again, and again…until I’ve made it my new, good habit. Because that’s what habits are: regularly repeated behaviors—developed through reinforcement, repetition, and perseverance—that require little or no thought and are learned rather than innate.

Gotta say…I’m looking forward to acquainting myself with my new, good habits! And I have A LOT…five to be exact, but we’ll get to that later. First, I’ll relay the information I gained from the internet on the topic of habits. (Who knew researching could be fun?! I always hated it during school…)


How Are Habits Formed? –

As I mentioned earlier, habits are developed through reinforcement, repetition, and perseverance. However, there’s more to it than just that, and New York Times business writer Charles Duhigg has recently authored a book—The Power of Habit—on the topic.

In Duhigg’s book, he mentions a habit loop—a three step process that is behind every good and bad habit. Here are the three steps:

  1. Cue – the trigger that initiates the behavior
  2. Routine – the action of completing the behavior
  3. Reward – the benefit gained from doing the behavior; reinforces doing the habit loop again

An example of a common habit would be as follows:

  1. Cue – waking up and getting ready
  2. Routine – going to the bathroom and brushing teeth
  3. Reward – clean teeth, fresh breath, closer to being ready for the day

What’s really interesting about habits, even simple ones like brushing your teeth in the morning, is that with time you don’t even really have to think about what you’re doing…you just do it! Apparently, we have two parts of the brain to thank for that: 1) basal ganglia where our habit forming behaviors are traced back to; an area for storing emotions, memories, and patterns recognition; and 2) prefrontal cortex where decisions are made, at least until a habit is formed then this area goes into a sort of “sleep mode” as the habit behavior takes over.


How Long Does It Take to Form A Habit? –

I think a lot of us have the misconception that habits take 21 days to form. At least, I know my husband and I both did. But it’s not true, and they actually know the origin of that myth!

In the 1950s, a plastic surgeon named Dr. Maxwell Maltz began to notice a trend with his patients. Whether it be a nose job, face lift, or amputation, it would take his patients about 21 days to adjust to their new situation. He then applied the theory to himself, and realized that it also took him about 21 days to adjust to new situations and habits.

In 1960 he published a book called Pscyho-Cybernetics, and this book spoke on the topic of behavior changes. The book became very popular selling 30 million copies, and Dr. Maltz then became known for this direct quote: “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.” The problem is…everyone forgot the word “minimum,” and thus the myth of the 21 day habit was made popular.

Luckily for us, Dr. Maltz hasn’t been the only one interested in studying habit formation. More recently, Phillippa Lally, a health psychology researcher at the University of London has been researching the topic. The goal in her 2009 study was to determine how long it takes to form a new habit.

The study examined the habits of 96 test subjects for 12 weeks. Each test subject was told to choose a new habit they wanted to develop. The subjects were then told to report back each day if they performed the behavior, and how automatic it felt.

What the study found was that there’s a huge time range when it comes to forming a new habit. In fact, the results of Lally’s study showed that the time range could take anywhere from 18–254 days to form a new habit. It all just depended on each individual person, behavior, and set of circumstances.

From what I’ve gathered, it appears that the general consensus in the health care field is that it takes 66 days (or approximately 10 weeks = 2.5 months) to form a new habit. Or at least that’s what health care providers should be telling their patients who are wanting to start new habits. Obviously, that takes way more time (almost 3 times the 21 day myth) than most people are anticipating. However, it should provide perspective that cultivating a good habit isn’t a short event, but rather a process that has to be committed to and embraced.


How To Cultivate A Good Habit –

Now that we’ve talked about what habits are, how they’re formed, and approximately how long they can take to kick in, it’s only fitting to talk about simple methods that can be used to cultivate new, good habits. So, here’s a four-step thought process I’ve developed:

  1. What habit do you want to achieve?
  2. What bad habit is the root of the problem that you are trying to replace?
  3. What is your plan—when and/or where will you complete the habit?
  4. What is the (short term and/or long term) benefit you will gain from your new habit?

You might be wondering, why is step 2 included? It’s because I’ve come to realize that it’s important to recognize what bad habits are holding us back, and making us want to change. The problem needs to be recognized and acknowledged, so we can move forward. There’s a reason we’re wanting to change, wanting to cultivate a good habit, and it’s because we’re obviously missing something, or needing something, or unhappy with our current situation.

Obviously, this blog post and topic has a lot of information to soak in. But I believe a good place to start is always to just THINK IT THROUGH. Look at the four-step process above and just think about what your answers could be. Mull it over for a day, or a week, and you’ll have a better idea of what you’re wanting and needing from a good habit.

Once you’ve thought it through, WRITE IT DOWN. Make the four point list, and answer all the questions. This is very important, because it will help guide you during the process, especially during the initial weeks. Not to mention, it’s always good to have a reference and reminder of why you’re doing what you’re doing.

Next up is the hard part: START THE HABIT LOOP. Know your cue, do the routine, and reap the reward. And then…do it again, and again, and again. And the next day, and the next week, and the next month…just keep doing it!

If you mess up or miss a day or two, no big deal. What is a big deal is quitting because you feel like you’ve failed. You’ve only failed once you’ve given up! So, be consistent and try your best. Somewhere around 66 days of reinforcement, repetition, and perseverance later, you’ll feel so proud, because you’ve successfully CULTIVATED A GOOD HABIT!


Overly Ambitious or Motivated for Change? –

You might remember that I mentioned I have five good habits I am wanting to cultivate…which is A LOT. But sometimes you just want a lot of positive change in your life, and this would be one of those times for me! (Maybe don’t try this, because I read that it’s better to start small, and with one new habit. But like I said…to each their own!) Here are the five good habits I’m going to try and cultivate:

  1. Good Habit: Listen to podcasts, 5x week
  2. Root of the Problem: Binge watching TV, which lets face it…isn’t very educational
  3. When: Every workday afternoon
  4. Benefits: Improving listening/comprehension abilities, gaining knowledge through topics, becoming more well-rounded, keeping my mind active
  1. Good Habit: Read, 5x week
  2. Root of the Problem: Over-consumption of social media
  3. When: Before bed time
  4. Benefits: Improving reading/comprehension abilities, finding joy and/or knowledge, becoming more well-rounded, keeping my mind active, forcing myself to go to bed earlier
  1. Good Habit: Write in my journal, 5x week
  2. Root of the Problem: Not making it a priority / setting aside the time
  3. When: In the morning
  4. Benefits: Recording memories to look back on, less to remember / write at once
  1. Good Habit: Workout, 5x week
  2. Root of the Problem: Not being active enough
  3. When: In the morning
  4. Benefits: Feeling, looking and being tone / fit / healthy
  1. Good Habit: Eat an organic apple, 5x week
  2. Root of the Problem: Not being / eating healthy enough
  3. When: Afternoon snack
  4. Benefits: Better health, may steer me towards other healthy snacks

I hope you found this long blog post interesting and useful, and I wish you the best in cultivating your own good habits!


Encyclopaedia Britannica
James Clear
James Clear / Huffington Post
Phillippa Lally
Benjamin Gardner



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