Contrary to common belief, changing your habits doesn’t take a designated amount of time. Many people think that habits take 12 weeks to change. But that’s just not the case. Habits don’t have a schedule telling them when to switch on or switch off. It’s not like you get to 12 weeks and through some magical switch, just activate. Habits evolve. They become stronger and they become weaker. They move along a continuum. And that continuum is infinite.
Like many others, I believed that habits took a designated amount of time to establish. And most of the internet will reinforce this. The most common time frame you’ll hear for a habit to become solid is 12 weeks. This is the theory underpinning so many of those 12 week programs you see in the fitness industry. But undertaking my own research into habits helped me to see otherwise.
Sure, [habits] are dependant on putting the time in, but there are other factors to consider when creating or eliminating habits — the biggest being emotion.
Consider the smoker who gives up for ten years, only to take up the habit again at a party. Or the father who was never there for his children, who after a near death experience, changes his priorities. What about the person who decides to learn a new language. These people didn’t practice new routines for twelve weeks and then miraculously they became a habit. Yes, some habits like smoking, that have a strong physiological component are a bit different. They sit in a category of their own. But that doesn’t mean they’re dependant on a specific time frame. No habits are.
After researching habits and learning from leading behaviour change experts such as Todd Herman and BJ Fogg, I discovered that habits are not dependent on a designated timeframe. Sure, they are dependant on putting the time in, but there are other factors to consider when creating or eliminating habits — the biggest being emotion. Emotion is a massive player when it comes to habit modification.
In order to understand habit modification it’s important to understand the difference between a habit and a routine.
A habit is a behaviour that is automatic. A routine is a behaviour that is frequent. Depending on how automatic and how frequent a behaviour is, you can classify it as follows:
- Low frequency, low automaticity = Not a routine, nor a habit
- High frequency, low automaticity = Routine but not a habit
- Low frequency, high automaticity = Habit but not a routine
- High frequency, high automaticity = Both a routine and a habit
The strongest behaviours are those which are both a routine, meaning they occur frequently, and a habit, meaning they occur automatically. Imagine feeling the need and desire to go for a run after work everyday. It doesn’t have to be a run, it could be any type of physical activity. But imagine how healthy and enjoyable your life would be. It may not feel like that now but through practice, this is what’s possible.
In order to create this person — this new version of yourself — you need to consider how to create a habit. Remember, habits are made up of automatic behaviours.
- You must be motivated by the outcome. This is where emotion plays a significant part. Establishing enough pain not to engage in this behaviour and enough pleasure during and after engaging in it, is imperative. You don’t have to love the behaviours, but you do need to be motivated by what they’re moving you toward.
- These behaviours must be specific. The more specific to the outcome you wish to achieve, the better.
- Your behaviour needs to be easy to slip in to. The more prepared you are for a particular behaviour, the more likely you are to do it.
- And finally, create good reminders for your behaviour. Establish reminders of why you’re doing these things. What do you want to get out of it. Create reminders of your outcome goal and put them around you everywhere — think vision boards and post-it notes. Then create triggers as part of your reminders. Create triggers to activate your behaviours such as an alarm.
In summary, there is no designated time that it takes for your habits to change about exercise. What you need is a clear idea of why you want to create these habits in the first place. What’s your outcome? And this outcome needs to inspire you! Your behaviours need to specifically influence your outcome, be easy to slip in to, and you need reminders in place, both for why you’re doing these behaviours and to trigger you to take action.
Question: What are your habits around exercise right now? How will this article help you to enhance your habits around exercise?
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