If there was a magic pill you could take that would allow you to automatically develop new healthy habits, you probably wouldn’t hesitate to take it, right?
After all, habits – the positive, healthy ones – can be notoriously difficult to develop and maintain. Of course, no such pill exists, and we’re left to our own devices to develop healthy habits. But besides hard work and determination, what’s the answer?
There’s an old maxim that says it takes 21 days to create a new habit. So, want to eat more vegetables? Increase your vegetable intake for 21 days and, voila, you’re good to go. Right? Well, no.
The famous ‘21-day myth’ came about in the 1950s, thanks to a plastic surgeon, Maxwell Maltz, who concluded that it took a minimum of 21 days for his patients to get used to their ‘new self.’ Over the years, the ‘minimum’ part got lost in translation, and self-help gurus around the world simply quoted 21 days as the magical number.
More recently, a study at University College London found that it took an average of 66 days – more than two months – for people to form a new habit. But the length of time for any one person spanned from 18 days to 254 days.
What do these examples tell us? That the science is lacking when it comes to giving us the simple answers that we want about developing healthy habits.
But herein lies the key point: What does it matter? If you truly want to develop healthy habits, you need to be in it for the long haul.
In other words, it’s less about the habit itself (acquiring a behaviour or routine that you essentially do subconsciously) and more about creating lasting lifestyle changes. And to do that requires something extremely important: Motivation.
In short, motivation—often a goal you want to achieve—has to come first. The habit(s) will follow. You could say that habits are simply a byproduct of a person’s motivation. In order to achieve ‘X’, I have to do ‘Y.’ And with that motivation in mind (even in the back of the mind), the healthy habits are carried out.
The good thing about motivation is it doesn’t really matter what it is: Improve your strength, acquire a new skill, or look better naked…
As long as it’s authentic and real, any motivation can carry you forward to produce healthy habits—in all walks of life. This could mean training for a sport, but it could also mean setting a weight loss goal, improving your self-esteem, having more energy, or simply wanting to live longer. And this is hardly an exhaustive list. Motivations (or reasons for developing healthy habits) are endless. The important part is finding yours.
If you’re looking to make a lifestyle change, first: Identify your personal reason WHY. (If you’re only planning on starting a new gym because you think society says you’re supposed to go to the gym, it’s just never going to work).
So: What’s your motivation?
Find your motivation, and the healthy habits will follow.