Why We Do Things, Why We Don’t, and How to Make Any Change Stick
The common wisdom says that habit-forming takes 21 days, but it turns out that this is rarely enough (despite many published proclamations to the contrary).
So then, how much time does it take? As with many things human, it depends. The range can be from 20 days for the simplest habits (like drinking more water) to more than 80 days—maybe close to a year—for those that take more effort (like doing 50 sit-ups a day).
After explaining what habits are made of and just how persistent and largely unconscious they can be, Mr. Dean provides advice from research. Here are a few samples:
About visualizing success: Don’t just fantasize about having reached your goal. Here’s why: Imagining that you have completed your goal is satisfying in itself. This may interfere with your motivation. Instead of dwelling on the time in the future where your goal has been attained, focus more on the process of getting there: eating healthy foods, exercising, writing every day, studying.
About making plans: Think ahead about specific behaviors and contexts. “If I find myself in the kitchen [context] looking for a treat [habit], then I will select strawberries and yogurt [specific behavior].”
About stopping a bad habit: When we try not to eat sugar, for example, then all we can think about is wonderful desserts (chocolate chip cookies, in my case). That’s because our minds are on the lookout for the specific thoughts we’re trying to suppress, and therefore, we think about them more than usual. We know from experience and research that old habits are hard to break. Substituting a new habit for an old one can help.
For these and other suggestions, this book is well worth the read. It also has pages of references if you want to dig into the research behind the advice.