Wearing a habit

Most of us at some stage want to break some bad habits or build some good ones. Do you want to stop checking your emails every ten minutes? Ensure you take 30 minutes away from your desk each day? Make time first thing every day to review your priorities? Switch off your work phone at 7pm each evening? Allocate three hours a week to revise for your diploma exams? How long might it take for you to break or make a habit?

I thought I’d read somewhere that it was 21 days but couldn’t be sure so went online to find out more. Research at the University of London in 2009 showed that after an average of 66 days, new behaviour had become as much of a habit as it ever would do.

The research also showed that early commitment to forming a good habit shortened the time taken for it to become automatic. However, but equally encouragingly, taking a day off from the behaviour didn’t have a long-term detrimental impact on the habit’s formation.

So what can we learn from this?

  • It takes time
  • It takes perseverance
  • One slip up isn’t a disaster

By its very definition, a habit is something we keep on doing. I’ve been wondering how we make sure that we do that. After all, our bad habits have become second nature and our good habits evidently take some time to become automatic. How can we remind ourselves?

Thinking about the word ‘habit’ reminded me that the outifts worn by nuns are called habits. The word ‘habit’ comes from the Latin ‘habere’ which means ‘to have’ but was used reflexively to mean ‘to be’ and so suggests a condition or state of being. For a nun, wearing her habit each day is a visual sign to both herself and the outside world that she has taken on a particular state of being, a specific way of life.

This made me wonder if we need to make a conscious effort to ‘put on’ our new habit each morning in order to remind ourselves that we’re working towards acquiring our new behaviour. Maybe it is something you physically wear, like a bangle on your right wrist to remind you that you’re only checking email once an hour. Perhaps you’ll stick an inspirational postcard on the wall next to your desk to keep you on track. You might arrange with a friend that you’ll email each other first thing every morning to report back on your training run the previous evening. Maybe you’ll set an automatic reminder on your mobile to switch it off at 7pm each night.

Whatever you choose, a conscious act of ‘wearing’ your habit might reinforce your chances of success.

Today’s pebble:

What habit would you like to break/make? How could you ‘wear’ your habit?

What do you think?

Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching. 

If you’d like to make progress in your work and life, why not email me to see how we could work together?

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