How long does it take to form a new habit?
One month? Three months? A year?
Well, it depends.
Habit formation is the process where actions become progressively more automatic through repetition. All habits form a similar path from effortful practice to automatic behavior. The goal is to make choices and take action without putting any thought into the behavior at all:
You automatically reach for the piece of fruit instead of the cookie.
You drive to the gym immediately after dropping the kids off at school without a thought about it.
You put your phone down easily after you read a text message instead of wasting another 20 minutes scrolling social media.
At the end of a long day you open the fridge a reach for a sparkling water instead of the bottle of wine.
These are all habits that are formed on frequency, rather than time. If you eat clean with “no cheat meals” during the week, but on the weekend enjoy a food free-for-all, all the time spent throughout the week practicing your new behaviors is erased.
Time is not a factor so much in habit formation as is frequency. To become automatic, you NEED to practice. Imperfect action consistently far outweighs perfect action you take “every so often.”
It doesn’t matter if you’ve been working on a plan to eat better for 14 days or 63 or 360. What matters is the frequency at which you make the decision to eat the grilled chicken and vegetables instead of the pizza.
Your current diet has been automatic to you for months (likely years) – new habits require the same amount of attention to form. String together enough successful attempts at making the better choice when it comes to the food you eat until the new behavior is firmly embedded in your mind.
The bottom line: when it comes to habits, what matters is that you are taking the actions you need on a daily basis. You must practice it. The most effective way to make this happen is to MAKE IT EASY.
One way to help with this is the use of implementation intentions.
How to use implementation intentions to form habits and fuel progress
You have a goal. You want to get in better shape, start reading, save money, stop smoking, lose some weight.
These goals are great, but in order to actually achieve them, you need to have a specific plan so you are more likely to follow through and allow them to become habit.
Vague ideas like: “I am going to eat healthier” or “I’ll workout more” leave your success to chance that you will just remember to do it.
To be successful, you need to have a plan. WHEN are you specifically going to act?
The best way to form a new habit is to have a specific time and day when you will be working on achieving that goal.
I will [BEHAVIOR] at [TIME] in [LOCATION]
If you are having trouble making progress on your goals, it’s not a problem of motivation or the goal itself, it’s due to a lack of clarity. Even better, add your new action on top of an existing habit:
When my alarm goes off in the morning, I will put on my workout clothes immediately after I leave my bed.
I will write for 15 minutes Monday-Friday at 5:30am in my office.
I will read 10 pages of my book immediately before bed.
After I eat a nutrient dense dinner, I will clean up the kitchen and brush my teeth.
After I drop the kids off at school, I will go to the 9am group class at the gym.
Implementation intentions like these not only give you a clear path forward to reach your goals, but they also allow you to be prepared for hectic weeks, stressful days, and special events.
Plan for the worst so you can perform your best. Making an implementation intention when things are smooth sailing means you are ready for the inevitable setbacks and obstacles.
Research shows that this simple act of having an implementation intention of when specifically you will work on achieving your results increases self control, even in less-than-ideal environments. This can be effective for a range of behaviors, from exercising to quitting smoking to studying for exams. By creating specific plans that are tied to particular situations, people can overcome obstacles that might otherwise derail their intentions.
Pre-plan for WHEN and WHERE you will be taking your action in a very detailed way so you’re not thrown off in a situation that is tempting to sabotage your progress.
When trying to form new habits, you can’t rely on a certain time frame. Above all, make it easy – create a sense of automaticity, making it easier to carry out intended behaviors without needing to rely on motivation or willpower (because willpower IS only a short term strategy).
If you are looking to create new habits when it comes to your nutrition, fitness, or health. Telos is the place for you. We will help you create a custom plan that is detailed, structured, and holds you accountable to stick to the program. We take all the guesswork out of it for you with our proven programs and a supportive community to help you consistently take action in the right direction.
Ready to learn more? Schedule your free intro with us below.