How to change our Habits?

Before discussing how much time it takes to change a habit, first let us try to understand what is a habit. Habit can be said as an action that we perform repeatedly. Now that action has become ingrained in our daily life and it has reached to a level where it happens automatically without making any conscious effort for it. We have performed so many repetitions of it, so now it has become a subconscious behavior for us.

Few of the examples are, the first thing you do after getting up is going to the washroom or brushing your teeth or plugging the mobile for charging:). These are the habits which we have been doing for years, so now we do not have to use our energy to think about it. It has become a subconscious behavior for us.

The same thing applies in the case of a little kid who keeps on drawing lines one after the other on a small piece of paper. Now the lines are very hard-wired in the paper and it is very difficult to find any space for drawing anything new.

We have our own set patterns and behaviors and they gradually become hard-wired into our brain. It will require a tremendous amount of effort and willingness to first open the jumbled wires and then again rewire them. The very fact that these actions are stored in our subconscious mind, it becomes very difficult to alter them. These actions drive our behavior, our emotions, and our lifestyle. It requires careful scrutiny on our part to analyze which habits are beneficial to us and which habits are harmful to us. On deep analysis, we will realize that there are a lot of actions we perform throughout the day, which are harmful to us or of very little use to us. We need to make a strategy to replace those bad habits and replace it with good habits.

Change might not be fast and it isn’t always easy. But with time and effort, almost any habit can be reshaped. – Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business

But now those behaviors and actions have formed definite patterns in our brain and it will require a great degree of discipline and determination on our part to change them. It is like rewiring our brain. The patterns are so strong that many people have given up and are not ready to believe whether it is possible to change their behavior. But you would have seen many instances where people have reprogrammed their brain and with great commitment and patience, have indeed changed their habits.

People who were alcoholics for years have left consuming alcohol, people who were ill with dangerous diseases are cured by following methods of Yoga, obese people have lost weight. Vice versa, many people have diverted from good habits to bad habits, too. People who did not take tobacco, have become addicts in the company of their friends, people who were moral and righteous have become thieves due to greediness, and so on.

But people who are conscious and willing to change a habit are looking to ingrain good habits into them. Nobody is reading this article to develop a bad habit. Initially, it was believed that to incorporate a new habit in your life, it would take 21 days. This was inspired by the study of Dr Maltz where he found that whenever he did any operation, it took at least 21 days for that behavior to be ingrained into the patient. His theory was scientific and he backed it up with real facts.

But if we carefully read what Dr. Maltz said, then we will find that he did not say that it took 21 days to form a new habit but it takes at least 21 days to form a new habit. And there is no blueprint which will guarantee that if you follow certain behavior for 21 days, it will get converted into a habit. And the number of days to change a habit depends on the will power of the person, the complexity of the habit, the surroundings, and also on the type of reward the person will get once he accomplishes the habit. The health of a person will also play an important part because an unhealthy person would take a longer time to complete the challenge.

The chains of habit are too weak to be felt until they are too strong to be broken. – Samuel Johnson

As the discussion about changing habits became hotter in the new generations, more advanced research was done on it. The latest research shows that it can take anywhere from 18 to 254 days for a person to form a new habit and an average of 66 days for a new behavior to become automatic.

There is no reason for becoming sad that it can take up to 254 days to form a new habit. Our concern should be to pick a habit which is small, doable and will give us some positive results. The positive effects of the habit may take a longer time to become obvious but the golden rule is that we need to stick to them. There will be exceptions when we are not able to follow the habit and that happens to everybody and there is no need to feel guilty about that.

For example, learning violin would take a long time to develop our expertise in it. But if we are playing it on a regular basis, we are making progress towards becoming a master of it. But there will be certain days when we have to go outside or there will be times when we lose motivation. But we need to make a sincere effort to get back to playing the violin as early as possible. Feelings of negativity, lack of motivation or I AM NOT GOOD ENOUGH are the common reasons why people leave lot of resolutions in between before the behavior becomes automatic.

I will tell you about a real spiritual incident that happened in the life of the enlightened sage Sri Ramkrishna Paramhansa. One of the devotees of Sri Ramkrishna told him that he was not able to get control over lust and this was proving as an obstacle in his spiritual progress. Sri Ramkrishna explained to him by asking that what would he do if a tiny thorn pierces his foot and he is not able to remove it with his hand? The devotee was clueless and was thinking about the answer. Sri Ramkrishna explained to him that if a thorn has pierced his foot and it is too small to be removed by hand than one needs to pick another thorn and with the help of that thorn remove the first thorn.

What Sri Ramkrishna meant was that there is no point in brooding over habits that are difficult to change and unnecessarily worry about them. Rather if we cultivate good habits, the habits which we are trying to eradicate will slowly disappear as the influence of good habits become stronger.

It can take anywhere between 18 to 254 days to form a new habit.
It depends on various factors to change a habit like will-power of person, the complexity of the habit, his surroundings, and also the reward and his heath.
The only method of forming a new habit is to stick to it as much as possible and avoid distractions.

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