Forming New Habits – 66 Days to Retrain Yourself

“A habit cannot be tossed out the window; it must be coaxed down the stairs one step at a time.”

-Mark Twain

Research tells us that it takes an average of 66 days for a behavior to become a habit. At first, that may sound like too long to wait for a reward of adopting an approach that you know is good for you.

Consider the alternative: a lifetime of sticking with an approach that you know doesn’t work. Isn’t it worth investing the time and effort to create a new habit of positivity instead?

Creating new habits takes will power.  Like every bad habit, you can quit it — with practice.

Understanding how the cycle of creating new habits can help you ride the waves towards your fresh way of doing things. Don’t just trust me; this is based on in-depth research that has helped smokers and dieters change their ways. If it can help people kick nicotine and chocolate, it can surely help you adopt better ideals in your life.

Did you know that more than 40 percent of the actions we take are governed by habit, not conscious decisions? According to Charles Duhigg’s book The Power of Habit, the habit loop follows three steps:

  • a cue that triggers the brain to go to automatic mode;
  • a routine based on a physical, emotional or mental activity that comes from the cue; and
  • a reward that tells your brain whether or not the loop is worth remembering.

Duhigg has determined that willpower is essential to success and habit change. To transform a negative habit, you go through these six stages:

1. Identify the old habit;

2. Identify why it feels comfortable;

3. Identify the cue;

4. Use the same cue;

5. Identify the new routine;

6. Create a better reward.

For example, if you want to shut down the debilitating inner critic in your head, you would focus on the:

1. Old habit – Making a mistake when under pressure, then berating myself;

2. Craving – Hearing the voice of your familiar inner critic (AKA saboteur);

3. Old cue – Feeling inadequate;

4. New cue – Acknowledging the presence of the saboteur;

5. New routine – Disperse negative thoughts by reframing them;

6. New reward – Try again then getting it right.

New habits are easier to form if they are aligned with your previous routine. You will also have far more success if you make a plan to create your new habit by anticipating obstacles and working around them, like I did.

That means finding someone to hold you accountable for your new approach. Your accountability partner checks in with you so you resist the urge to stop mid-stream. You can either find one in your circle or hire a professional coach to support you.

I have also found great value in creating and reciting daily affirmations to reinforce the positive outlook needed to succeed. Once you’ve identified your old cue and replace it with a new hint, routine and reward, the next step is to take action as a more confident You. Just as doing physical exercise builds and strengthens one’s muscles, repeating affirmations builds and strengthens one’s spirit.

Old habits die hard, but they do die when you install new habits in their place. It just takes time, commitment, and perseverance. Over time, your brain goes from having to think about how to make a switch and automatically follows the new path you have forged.

You will have far more success if you make a plan to create your new habit, by anticipating obstacles and working around them. You can also make small changes on your way to your new approach, whatever it may be.

You can also envision your future goal if you continue on your new path, as a way to stay motivated and focused. You can even write yourself a letter from the future you as inspiration.

Be kind and patient with yourself as you try new things and incorporate them into your life.  The reward will be worth the effort.

Leave a Comment