Forming a Habit has No Deadline
A quick Google search on how long it takes to form a habit will have your head reeling with contradicting numbers. Is it 21? No, 30. Wait, 66! Oh shit, 254 days??? I’m not one to call bullshit on science. I vaccinate. I have a biochemistry degree. Evolution looks damn legit for a theory. Pretty sure the earth is round and orbiting the sun and whatnot. However, in this particular case, despite science and studies and findings – which really come out to a huge range of time and are wildly dependent on the individual and activity – forming a habit is the product of more than just the number of days in a row it’s been done.
Putting a deadline on creating a habit only makes it that much more discouraging because it’s not as easy as you feel it should be by now. Okay, I’ve been doing X for X number of days, so why is it still such a chore? Why am I not motivated to do this by now? This isn’t automatic yet – what am I doing wrong? This is not the part of habit-forming to give your energy to.
As James Clear wisely states, “whether it takes 50 days or 500 days, you have to put in the work either way.” Because that’s what it is – work. And work is never easy. That’s why it’s called work. Eventually you might “get used” to doing it, but that sure as hell doesn’t mean it’s all of a sudden easy or even done without an internal struggle leading up to it.
It’s not work for me to sit on my ass with a bag of chips and watch Netflix all day. I’d say I could do that day in and day out and be happy but it’d be a lie. Every now and then, though…that would be bomb. But typically when you’re trying to make or break a habit it’s because you’d be a happier person overall if you did. If I ate chips and sat on my ass all day every day I’d feel like an unproductive, tubby, worthless slob, not to mention important responsibilities wouldn’t get taken care of. If that makes you feel like you’re living your best life, then more power to you. As for myself, I’d be very discontent. There’s likely other things you could do with your time that would better support and empower your mental and physical health.
What is one thing, that if you did it each day, you know you’d be a happier person because of the result? Straighten up the house for 30 min each evening? Exercise 3x/week? Wake up early to enjoy a quiet, slow-paced morning coffee? Stop biting your nails? Limit screen time? It can be anything that would support your overall, general happiness or create a sense of pride.
Now that you’ve pinpointed it…START DOING IT. It will be hard. It will be work. It will be worth it. And don’t worry about how long you’ve been doing it or how difficult it still is after X number of days. Focus on how it makes you feel to accomplish it. Pay attention to how it affects your day when you can check it off your list. Notice how your mood shifts when you keep your promise to yourself. This is what will keep you going, not how many days you can say you’ve done it.
This is also where discipline swoops in. Discipline trumps habit, in my opinion. Because honestly, I’m tired before bed and don’t ever feel like brushing my teeth but I do it because I know I need to, not because I do it without thinking. Knowing how the habit you’re creating makes you feel, combined with making time in your schedule to earn that feeling, eventually leads to having the discipline to do it. It’s not automatic, it’s not done without thinking, and sometimes it requires calling yourself out on being lazy or making excuses. Just because you need a stern pep-talk now and again, that doesn’t mean you’re failing at creating a habit. That just means it’s hard work AND it’s important to you. Sounds like the definition of worthwhile to me. Jus’ sayin’.
You will experience hiccups, setbacks, breaks, and mistakes, but not failures. Nobody’s perfect. Picking up where you left off and moving forward is what success is made of. Remember why you started and how it makes you feel and get back to it. Your health and happiness depend on it.