FormingGoodHabits

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Free Article – Forming New Habits

Learn how to turn your goals into habits

Key learning outcomes:

  • Learn about Maltz’s theory that habits take a least 21 days to form, and sometimes much longer.
  • Recognise that a behaviour is considered a habit when it becomes second nature.
  • Describe the three phases of habit formation that form Tim Bartlow’s model.
  • Acknowledge that some habits are harder to form than others, but you will be rewarded for your perseverance.

Article:

There is a well-known behavioural theory or myth that states it takes 21 days to form a habit. The theory originates from the 1950s, when surgeon, Maxwell Maltz, observed that it would take at least 21 days for his patients to get used to major changes in their body after surgery, for example a limb amputation or plastic surgery. He did further research into human behaviours and published his final theory about habit formation in the 1960s in his book, Psycho-Cybernetics. Over time his theory has become accepted; however, what is often forgotten is that, as Maltz determined, it takes at least 21 days to form a habit and it could actually take much longer.

WHY BOTHER THEN?

The key to forming a good or positive habit is that once your behaviour has become a habit, it is embedded into a part of your brain that allows you to do it almost without thinking. There is no doubt that the rewards can be great if you persevere and incorporate a positive habit into your daily or weekly routine. Unfortunately, for most of us, we simply give up too soon. Think about superstar athletes that go out and train hard day in and day out. They do it not because a coach is telling them, but because they know that the reward will be there for them when they are competing and winning. For these people getting up at 6am in the cold, training has become a habit, something they do everyday without even thinking about why they do it – they just do it. So, if you want to exercise more, read more, learn more or eat more healthily, the key is to form habits that will support you in reaching these goals.

HOW WE FORM HABITS

There are several theories and models that outline how we form habits and help us to embed them into our everyday lives. In this article we will outline one of the most helpful models we have used. The model was designed by business consultant Tim Bartlow and it has been published in material by performance coach, Dr Jason Selk. It outlines three phases of habit formation, which are discussed below.

PHASE ONE: THE HONEYMOON

During this phase everything seems easy. We are highly motivated and think that forming this new habit will be a breeze. For example, think about how you might feel after joining a gym. You are dressed in your new gym gear, have had a complimentary motivational session with the personal trainer and are feeling excited as you walk through the door and greeted by the smiling receptionist. Like a newlywed couple, a couple of months home after your return from that idyllic island honeymoon, daily routine and reality start to set in. It gets harder to make it through the gym door. This is when we move into phase two.

PHASE TWO: THE FIGHT THROUGH

In phase one, the “fight through” phase, reality has bitten and you are finding reasons and excuses not to continue with your new routine. Maybe old habits are finding their way back into your life or you are starting to feel like your new routine is just too hard. The key is to understand that it is common to feel like this in this phase. Selk outlines the following techniques to help get you past this phase.

  1. Recognition – simply recognising that you are in a fight through phase is a positive step forward, and as a result, you will better manage it the next time around. On the other hand, if you allow yourself to fall behind, you will face greater hurdles. This is when positive self-talk comes into play.
  2. Question – ask yourself these two important questions. “How will I feel if I do this?” and “How will I feel if I don’t do this?” Allow yourself to think emotionally; to think about how good you will feel when you have won the fight through and how bad you will feel if you give up.
  3. Projection – this is particularly helpful when you are looking to form a habit that can be life changing. Think about how the future might look when you do fight through. For example, perhaps you are trying to form a habit of saving money, but there is a luxury item or feel-good activity that you will have to miss out on this week if you save some money. Think about the bigger picture; how will your future look if you keep your savings plan on track. Perhaps it will allow you to enjoy an overseas trip or to buy your own property. Perhaps what you wanted to buy today no longer seems so necessary or appealing.

It is important to understand that you might need to fight through more than once before you form the habit and you can move onto phase three.

PHASE THREE: SECOND NATURE

By this stage, your habit has become a part of your daily life. You probably don’t even need to think about what you are doing. If a morning jog has become a habit, you simply get up, get dressed and get going. There is a risk of interruptions to this routine. For example, if you go on holidays, that morning jog is put aside and your routine is unsettled. Other things such as work or family can also be causes of disruption to your routine or development of habits.

Other things to watch out for in this phase are becoming under- or overconfident. Perhaps you are not seeing the results you were hoping for with your fitness routine, or you have plateaued on your weight loss. You may be thinking, “Well it is not working, so why should I bother”. Likewise, becoming overconfident can be an issue when you start to think that you do not need to work so hard as the results are coming so easily for you.

Whatever it is that upsets your routine, you need to recognise the signs early and understand that you may need to go back to phase two and once again win a fight through.

SUMMARY

It is important to acknowledge that forming new habits is not as easy as we might think. Some of our habits, such as cleaning our teeth each night before bed, might seem like second nature, but in reality our parents probably reminded us night after night for many years before it became one of our daily behaviours. We will finish with a great quote by Margaret Thatcher about habits:

Watch your thoughts, for they become words.

Watch your words, for they become actions.

Watch your actions, for they become habits.

Watch your habits, for they become your character.

And watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.

What we think, we become.

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