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Bad Habits? How to make a long lasting change

Nearly everyone has some habits or behaviors they would like to change about themselves. However, the old saying that it takes 21 days to make a change is misleading. In actuality, research shows it takes 66 days to develop a habit, but changing an old behavior can take even longer. While 66 days may sound like an eternity, in reality, most people will begin finding a rhythm within a few weeks. However, long-term success may take more work. It can take anywhere from one to five years to develop a new habit for life.

Start with a small goal and prove to yourself you can make it happen. Instead of opting to eat the recommended five servings of fruits and veggies every day, start by incorporating one piece of fruit into your diet every single day. If you already do that, then add one more piece. Research shows that it should become a habit in about two months. Missing a day once in a while is not detrimental, so keep at it even if you miss one.

Not sure where to start? The following five steps can help you tackle a change:

  1. First, identify the cues or triggers that form your habits. Do you reach for chocolate and wine when you are stressed? Do you skip the gym if you get stuck at work a few minutes late? The key is to figure out the reasons behind your habits.
  2. Once you know your cues, work on disrupting them. If you constantly find excuses to avoid exercising in the evening, then try to fit in a brisk walk during your lunch hour or commit to exercising the first thing in the morning so that you can cross it off your list before your day even begins.
  3. Replace your bad habits. If you want chocolate when you are stressed, work ahead to prepare healthier chocolate options like chocolate covered berries or portioned pieces of dark chocolate.
  4. Opt for simple replacements. Your brain defaults to the original bad behavior because it’s easy. If you want to make a change, keep the new behavior easy as well. Instead of an intricate workout routine, make simple plans that you can easily carry out like adding a walk after dinner with a family member or friend.
  5. Look at the long term! Yes, it’s easy to eat a bag of chips and feel better in the moment, but if you want to change, you must focus on the long-term goal. Eventually all hard tasks become easy, so it’s worth sticking it out.