Good dietary habits can revolutionize the way we eat and have an impact in our health and quality of life. But why is it so hard to keep them up and what do we need to form them? Think of a dietary habit that you would like to form. Maybe you want to eat more fruits and vegs? Or perhaps quit having an extra biscuit with your tea? The “why” or the reason you’d like to achieve this new habit is your “motivator”. Once you know what you want to achieve and why you want to achieve it, then you can apply strategies to form and maintain your new habit. However, it will take longer than 21 days. Sorry! But read on…
Why it will take you more than 21 days
The first step is to prepare for the time and effort in making a new habit. The idea that you can create a habit in 21 days came from a book titled Psycho-Cybernetics by a surgeon called Dr. Maxwell Maltz. In his book, Dr. Maltz described how after plastic surgery it took an average of 21 days for his patients to become accustomed with their new faces.
A more recent study from University College London (UCL) determined that it actually takes 66 days to form a new habit. Researchers from UCL also observed that this time could vary according to the characteristics of each individual. They went on to report that it could take from 18 up to 254 days for a new habit to stick. Let’s be optimistic – it likely won’t take you 8 months to create a new habit! But setting a realistic expectation of 2 months will increase the odds of creating and maintaining your new habit.
4 factors to make your habit successful:
Step 1: Visualize your habit
Think of a habit that you would like to introduce to your daily life. Reflect why you would like to achieve it and what you would gain.
Step 2: Repeat the behavior every day
Repeating the action you are interested in converting into a habit every day in the same scenario will help your brain associate your surroundings with that new action. Therefore, every time you become exposed to that scenario you will be reminded and pushed into your new habit. Try choosing a place and time of day when you would like to make this habit happen.
Step 3: Make your habit possible
It must be possible for you to practice the new habit. For example if you want to limit your the number of biscuits you consume, but you work in a biscuit shop and have 20 back-up bags of biscuits at home, well, you have some significant odds! Or if your goal is to increase your water intake, you must have accessibility to water throughout the day. Finding an easy and practical way to achieve your new habit will increase your chances of keeping it for the long run. This characteristics is referred to as capability. Examples of capability if you wanted to increase your veggie intake would be to:
- Having (or creating) a time gap to buy and prepare vegetables
- No allergy or digestive problem for a rich veggie diet
Step 4: Creating opportunity
There must be a window of opportunity for you to engage in your new action and transform it into a habit. Coming back to the example of increasing your veggie intake, it could mean that you choose a new route to work which takes you past a fruit and veggie stand. Thus, you could buy your veg for the day. Other ways you could increase your opportunities of eating fruit and veg:
- Go to a restaurant known for its prowess with vegetables
- Spend more time with vegetarians or others who are trying to eat more veggies
- Have someone show you how to cook a vegetable you’ve never tried
Step 5: Finding your motivator
There must be something in your core that pushes you to create a habit. Examples of a motivator could be:
- You have a condition you want to treat: say you’re prone to acne and increasing your water intake will get rid of it
- You’re pregnant; increasing your veggie intake will ensure that your child will get all their required nutrients and a preference for veggies
The take-away message here is: repeat the action in the same scenario every day. It will take a bit of effort at the beginning but before you know it you will be doing it without thinking. Good habits change your life for the better!