CREATING a habit is easy – especially a bad one! An overweight person will tell you how simple it was to fall into bad eating habits and put on weight. They didn’t even have to think about it! But they’ll also tell you how difficult it is to change behaviour, creating healthy habits and losing weight consistently.
All I seem to hear these days is “people need to change their eating habits and eat healthier.” But if creating healthy habits was that easy, everyone would be doing it and there wouldn’t be an obesity crisis.
So let’s explore the process of creating healthy habits and see whether new eating habits can be formed as easily as they sound!
FIRST OF ALL, HOW LONG DOES CREATING HEALTHY HABITS TAKE?
In a study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, researcher Phillippa Lally from University College London and her team worked out exactly how long creating healthy habits take if they are to last.
The study examined the habits of 96 people over a 12-week period. Each person chose one new habit for the 12 weeks and reported each day on whether or not they did the behaviour and how automatic the behaviour felt.
Some people chose creating a healthy habit like running 15 minutes before dinner while others chose to drink a bottle of water with lunch. The researchers analysed the data to determine how long it took each person to go from starting a new behaviour to automatically doing it.
Here’s what they discovered:
On average, it takes more than two months before a new behaviour becomes automatic. The exact timing was 66 days. The length of time depends on what you’re trying to achieve, the behaviour, the person and their situation. In this study it took anything from 18 to 254 days to create a healthy habit.
When I first began to study the science of habits I was amazed by how much conscious effort you actually have to put into creating a healthy habit, yet these researchers have proved that habits account for 40 per cent of our behaviours in any one day.
Understanding how habits work and the secrets of creating healthy habits is really important if you want to take control of your health.
Here’s a short guide on creating healthy habits:
ONE: CREATING HEALTHY HABITS IS ABOUT BABY STEPS
Most people get off on the wrong foot by thinking it’s all too hard. “I’ve got no willpower” is the familiar cry! Well pick a thing that’s really easy to do and doesn’t take much effort. For example, drinking more water – increase it from two glasses to three glasses a day. Or walking – 50 paces to 100 at first. Or taking the stairs instead of the lift.
TWO: GENTLY DOES IT!
Start small and gradually improve. This is the secret of success. A lot of people see the end goal and they freak out. If you have 40lbs to lose it can seem like you have a mountain to climb. However, if you start small and make your first target say 5lbs, your motivation will increase as you go along, making it so much easier to succeed.
Success is a few simple disciplines, practised every day; while failure is simply a few errors of judgement repeated every day — Jim Rohn
THREE: BREAK THE HABIT INTO SMALL DAILY CHUNKS
If you manage your new habit, so you’re increasing it by a tiny amount every day, then you’re on to a winner. It will be effortless and you’ll be surprised how far you’ve come when you look back after a couple of months.
FOUR: DON’T PANIC IF YOU ‘FALL OFF THE WAGON’
Success is never a straight line. People make mistakes. The difference with people who succeed is that they learn from mistakes and get back on track immediately.
Research shows that if you have a temporary lapse, it has no impact on your success. Most successful people build obstacles into their journey so the brain expects them – and then they won’t come unstuck.
Think about what might happen in your day that is likely to drag you off course. And then you’ll easily get back on track.
FIVE: PATIENCE IS A VIRTUE WHEN CREATING HEALTHY HABITS!
This is perhaps the most important part of all for people who have a lot of weight to lose. Your weight didn’t all go on at once and it’s not going to come off at once either.
Beware of quick-fix diets that tell you you’ll lose weight overnight. Believe me, it isn’t going to happen. Weight is the one thing that requires patience, so follow a realistic plan that works for you. Slow and steady wins the race!