Every January a lot of folks join a gym. Some folks join a gym every January. They are gung-ho about it, to be sure. This will be the year. This will always be the year. Why wasn’t this the year? Maybe next year.
You may have heard somewhere that it takes 66 days to change a habit (or perhaps you heard some other period of time; it appears there are several different contenders for the magic period of time). From what I can tell this stems from a study conducted by Phillippa Lally for the European Journal of Social Psychology, which surveyed 96 folks during an experimental period of 12 weeks. Of note is that this was to create a new habit, not destroy or alter an old one.
I have always been of the mindset that addition is easier than subtraction in most cases. It would seem adding the gym in might be easier (to most) than removing the cigarette from all such activities one may have utilized a cigarette.
In either case, the main ingredient would seem to be the decision, the resolve. One reason I think that people follow such templates as the 66 Day Route (or the three-month route, or what-have-you) is that it takes some deciding; it intuits a plan and a commitment.
If on January 1st, you simply drive to your local gym and decide that you are going to go. Or, if on March 18th, you foreswear cigarettes and decide that you have had your last, it is no wonder that this plan is doomed to failure. It hasn’t been thought through. Something new hasn’t been incorporated into your schedule; you have simply gone to the gym. Alternately, on March 18th you simply are not smoking THEN. Who is to say what you might do on March 19th.
Whereas, if you are taking 66 days to groove into your newfound gym habit, you most likely have incorporated a gym schedule and reflected on how it will change the normal pattern of your life: if you go three times a week, for an hour, how will that throw off your social activities?
Now, don’t get me wrong—there is more to Ms. Lally’s study than to simply commit and make a plan. But, in looking at her study alongside some other online habit gurus, it really would seem that the power is in your hands, as long as you take a few steps, and ensure you know what you are doing.
FIRST: Work up to it.
Put simply, don’t decide you are going to become a world class gymnast the night before you start a plan. Ask yourself, what specifically your goals are, and where a good place to begin would be. For instance, if you want to get in shape, maybe you just want to be a little more active. Rather than running off to the gym, perhaps you can grab a friend and play tennis, or go running in the mornings. Your motives and goals are what are going to fuel the habit. It seems pretty obvious to say, but ensure the habit you are trying to build or destroy is the one you actually want (or wish to change).
This portion should be mostly intuitive. For instance, why do I feel I want to stop smoking? Oh: because it is bad for my health. You are not going to change if you don’t really want to or are unsure of why you are doing it. Most importantly, you have to be doing it for yourself. So make sure you want to!
AFTER THAT: Plan it.
This is where you formulate the contract with yourself. Primarily, as I have stated above, this is simply to acknowledge and commit to what you are about to do and reinforce it. Are you going to quit smoking cold turkey? Will there be allowances? Do you ultimately want to go to the gym three times a week, but figure you will incorporate it just once a week for the first two months and see how you feel and how your schedule works out? Lack of closure is the deal killer on many broken plans: “Never eat candy bars again. Ok, ready? Go!” That seems destined to failure, even you aren’t the candy bar kind of human.
That is a lot of words for simply this: Decide to do it before you do it; acknowledge your reasons for doing it, and then plan how you are going to do it.
This is where the 66 days really kicks into play. Sure, going to the gym sucks. And damn, I really want a drink, some fatty foods, or a cigarette, but I signed on for 66 days. This is the finish line that the never eating Snickers again example above denies you. The idea is, of course, that if you stick it out for the 66 days, you will be more likely to continue the habit (or not) of your own accord on the 67th.
So what happens on the 67th day? I don’t know. Honestly, I am a believer that if you were counting down 66 days while you were doing this habit forming or breaking exercise that there might be trouble for your habit in your future.
What I feel should be taken from this process more so than a gimmick to free you from vices or to pick up good habits, is the control that one can have in their life if they so plan it. If you want to get in shape and you plan for it, you can make it happen. I am not a big fan of picking things up followed by putting them down, so I have found that sports and bicycling has served my purposes just fine.
Which is why I say to you go back up and look at the silly little steps detailed in the article and decide what you really want for yourself and its place in your daily life. If you noticed, in this article, I kept picking on cigarettes and the gym—because those are two very obvious answers. Perhaps, if I looked a little deeper into myself, I may find something that worked a little more with me. I urge you to do that too and make the changes that are right for you and the life that you wish to lead.
If you do so, you may find, as He-man would say: “YOU HAVE THE POWER!”