Old Habits Die Hard
We all have them. We probably don’t remember when they started. We all try to break them. Sometimes we succeed. Sometimes we don’t. Whether it is nail biting, pimple popping, peeling skin off apples, tapping your fingers to the beat, obsessively checking your phone... The list goes on and on.
We have good habits too. Drinking water, exercising, writing in a journal. While this list goes on and on too, often times it is a list of things we aspire to do. A list of behaviors we want more of in our life rather than a list of behaviors we are trying to curtail.
How do habits form?
Habits are a process and not an event. By definition, the only way to succeed in building a habit is to do it over and over. Consistency develops routines and builds momentum. Repetition builds familiarity and familiarity grows into automation—a habit. Obstacles to success must be removed along the way or else they turn into excuses which keep you from developing a habit.
According to Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, every habit starts with a psychological pattern called a “habit loop,” which is a three-part process. First, there’s a cue, or trigger, that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and let a behavior unfold. Then, there’s the routine, which is the behavior itself. It is the behavior which we typically think about when we think about habits. The third step, he says, is the reward: something that your brain likes that helps it remember the “habit loop” in the future.
How long does it take to form a habit?
On average, it takes more than 2 months before a new behavior becomes automatic — 66 days to be exact, according to health researcher Phillippa Lally’s study. In Lally’s study, it took anywhere from 18 days to 254 days for people to form a new habit. How long it takes a new habit to form can vary widely depending on the behavior, the person, and the circumstances.
Two months feels like a long time in today’s world of instant gratification. Frequently we are looking for a quick fix, when all we really need is time and practice.
Consistency is Key
At Book Trust, our kids are building habits and behaviors of great readers month in and month out of the school year. The “habit loop” we create for kids begins with book choice as the trigger. Kids receive the Scholastic Reading Club book selection flyer .
For children from low-income families, the opportunity to choose books each month of the school year sends a message that they are valued and they are readers. Then the routine begins. Kids choose the books, order the books, anxiously await the arrival of the books and then READ! They read at school, at recess, at home—whenever they can because they are excited and engaged in the books they chose. The most tangible reward is ownership. The more intangible but equally powerful reward is a sense of confidence and belonging that comes with being a successful reader. This results in a love of reading which helps kids succeed not just in school but ultimately in life.
Habit Challenge: 66 Days
Which habit are you trying to incorporate into your life? List your top three. Pick one. Define your “habit loop.” What is the trigger, the routine, and the reward? Keep a journal to hold yourself accountable over the next 66 days as you repeat the behavior you want to turn into a habit. Remove the obstacles and embrace the power of consistency in changing your personal behaviors.
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