Author: Justin Mckibben
Sometimes making a change in our lives seems like it is a task beyond us, and we feel as if the things we hope for and yearn to achieve are always just beyond our reach of influence. But in reality, we are creatures of habit, and we can actually form new habits that allow us to break free of those that are self-defeating, and extend our understanding of what kind of limitless potential we truly have.
Our minds and our bodies are dependent on stimulants, actions and patterns that come to shape us into the people we see in the mirror, and the people that we give to others when we build relationships. Our habits are the walls we build to protect us from the world, they are the identity that we construct for ourselves, and the actions we take to remain in the consistent comfort of familiarity.
What we don’t realize is that we create these habits unconsciously, and after time we forget where these little gestures and aneurisms ever started. I know personally I have been cracking my neck since… well, ever. No idea why I started, but a day doesn’t go by that I don’t do it.
Asking Habit Experts
According to Charles Duhigg, author of “The Power of Habit,” habits are not born, but developed over time. Whether a habit is good, bad or indifferent, they always start with a psychological pattern called a “habit loop.”
Duhigg reported that the ‘habit loop’ is a three-part process.
- The first step is the trigger that tells your brain to let a certain behavior unfold
- The second step is the behavior itself, or the routine it creates
- The third step is the reward, being something that your brain likes that helps it remember the ‘habit loop’ by seeking that feeling.
Once we’ve formed habits, they are hard to break because most of the time we forget we even do them. So because of the ‘habit loop’, that habit is able to subconsciously co-exist with everything else we do. But then habits can become harmful, especially when we become slaves to our habits. Some habits become inhibitors and some have the power to control our lives. Often times substances have addictive qualities that reinforce these habits, but there are always ways to break them.
Changing the Pattern
The European Journal of Social Psychology published a study where Phillippa Lally and her team of researchers surveyed 96 people over a 12-week period to find exactly how long it takes to start a new habit. In that 12 week period, the participants chose a new habit and reported each day how automatic the behavior felt. At the end of the period, the data was analyzed and researchers found the average time it took for the participants to pick up a new habit was only 66 days.
While her results were focused on the time it takes to create a habit, one can apply this same estimation in the reverse and tell the time it takes to kick an old one and pick up a better one. If a habit does not include addictive additives or stimulants, which make the withdrawal and brain processes different, it could only take 66 days to cut out all the habits that create a negative impact on our lives.
So if you want to replace your diet, get into a new workout routine, or simply try to change your perspective to a positive one, it is possible that it can be done in 66 days, and there are 4 stages that have been suggested throughout those days.
- Stage 1 (Days 1- 22) Obnoxiousness
Now when we say obnoxious, it is meant in the most positive and productive way possible. If you want to go crazy and sing from the roof-tops, more power to you, but it’s not required.
Tell the people closest to you of your goal, your plan, and how they can help keep you in line with that plan. When we don’t tell anyone about the changes we want to make in our lives, and take it on as a myrter mission, we don’t have the support and the inspiration of those that keep us accountable.
The pressure of disappointing other people and going back on your word will make it that much harder to go back to your old ways. It’s always easier to let ourselves down, but the added pressure of other people counting on us makes it much more difficult to slack or give up.
- Stage 2 (Days 22- 44) Take Inventory
People familiar with 12 step programs of recovery are pretty aware of how important honest personal inventory can be, and how effective it is at keeping us on task. This stage is the time an individual can really look at their goals, their efforts, and what outcome they are looking for. Do some soul-searching. Find your passion and be sure it is aligned with your outcome, and see the truth in your motives.
When those of us in recovery are doing inventory, we often look for how our actions or our resentments affect us, and what we have contributed to the things that hurt us or hold us back. When trying to instill a new habit, look for what affect your goal will have and make sure it is a good one. Try to see if you are making a conscious contribution toward that.
If you can find you have the passion in your unconscious, you have the essence of what it takes to complete the 66 days.
- Stage 3 (Days 44- 66) Digging In
Stage 3 is the home stretch. You can look back and see the progress in the last 44 days, but there is still 22 more that you must push through. Sometimes people burn bright and then fizzle out toward the final count-down. We get tired and forget that purpose we were once so sure of. A lot of people fall down here because it just sounds easier to revert to that old pattern, because the habit still exists to some extent in the back of your mind.
This is when people either pull their punches and throw the fight, or they drop their emotional or spiritual anchors and dig in for the long haul. Finding a purpose again by giving yourself something to hold onto can get you through this trial. It is often the last 22 days that prove how strong and willing you really are.
This stage is about understanding that even though you have not yet arrived, you are too close now to make a clean break and give up, and pushing through to the other side of this experience is the only thing that will show you what you are capable of. Lean on your supports, and they will celebrate with you at the finish line.
- Stage 4 (66 +) Celebrate Your Victory
The only way to solidify and re-inforce the death of an old habit or the birth of a new one is to celebrate your victory. This gives us another emotional or spiritual anchor that weighs down that accomplishment in our consciousness, giving us leverage and momentum.
Take the time to congratulate yourself. Throw a party, get together with the people you leaned on, friends and loved ones and celebrate the process, as well as the end result. Those who were a part of the process are usually ecstatic to celebrate it with you, and you never know who you might share that experience with and inspire to make some adjustments of their own.
Not all habits may seem like they can be changed, and addicts and alcoholics often feel that a few simple suggestions won’t change much. The truth is, giving yourself the time and patience to give some type of system a shot may change everything in your life. All it takes it the desire to take that opportunity. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135