Houston! We have a problem! There is a lie out there. A hopeful belief that has been accepted and perpetuated by the half full population. An idea that is easily adopted, tried and found to be false yet I believe we’ve all fallen victim to it in some way or fashion. Instead of questioning this lie/belief/idea we look at ourselves and think that the problem or error is us. And that is the lie that comes from the first lie. AND ITS WRONG! It is so sad that the world has come to this, that our human thinking allows us to injure and interfere with our own success. What is this? You’ll tell me because you know the lie.

Breaking the Habit Lie

Answer this question:

How long does it take to establish a new habit?

You know the popular answer, don’t you? 21 days. “Do this or that for 21 days and it will become a habit.” or “With only 21 days it will be automatic.” Hello McFly! You know as well as I do that 21 days doesn’t do it. Has it happened? Have you established a habit in 21 days? Sure maybe. I think I may have as well. But we’re each human, a unique and individual creation of our Lord. We each have different gifts and abilities along with a collection of weaknesses. We each have exclusive whys and willpowers. Plus every desired or undesired habit is different as well.

BAD NEWS: We may not be able to establish a habit in 21 days.

You know what? My weaknesses align with someone else’s strengths. What an amazing concept! He designed us to be reliant on each other. You’ve heard me quote before “iron sharpens iron.” He designed synergy. OK, I’m getting a bit off task but it is so easy to talk about how amazing He is because I’m just a measly human who can’t even establish a habit in 21 days.

What is a habit? According to Websters a habit is:

: a usual way of behaving : something that a person does often in a regular and repeated way
: a strong need to use a drug, to smoke cigarettes, etc.
: a piece of clothing worn by members of a religious group

I will add to the “usual way of behaving” that it is a “cue” or “trigger” followed by the automatic response. Some examples of “cues” or “triggers”:

  1. my shoe is untied
  2. approaching a stop sign
  3. urge to use the restroom
  4. being greeted in the hallway

I have some good news for you and it is supported by scientific evidence. First, because of all those differences and uniquenesses (is that even a word) let me rephrase the question:

On average how long does it take a person to establish a new habit?

The study found that ON AVERAGE it takes 66 days to form a habit. The range of days for habit formation was from 18 to 254 days. Wow, that is quite a range. Yay, I’m normal. Oops did I just say that. What is normal? AND who wants to be normal? Oops, there I go again. Anyway, if you’re one of those brainy types, here’s the full article from the European Journal of Social Psychology.

This new knowledge should give us freedom, remove guilt, and set us on a path for greater life. You might want to go back and reread the poem about habits now that you’re recharged about forming good habits. Sounds like some great benefits to having good habits.

GOOD NEWS: Since we no longer believe the lie, we can make and change habits that take us longer than 21 days.

Habit Formation

So, what does it take to form a habit? It takes change. It takes using W.A.Y. S.M.A.R.T. goals over time. It takes willpower.

BAD NEWS: We don’t like change.

Back in the day I was an alpine ski racing coach and a ski instructor. The coaching was awesome and the instructing was a drag until I came upon the magic potion that clarified the difference for me. First the coaching was awesome because the young (10-18 year old) athletes got better. Quickly. They took in new ideas and applied them. What did it mean to get better? It meant change. Ski instructing adults was kind of lame. It lacked rewards but I didn’t realize for some time what the rewards were. This realization was the magic potion. I’m a little codependent. . . ok, ok, I’m a lot codependent and my rewards were based on my adult ski students feelings of success. They were never experiencing success–enough success for me anyway. I was a good instructor and got good reviews but I was never satisfied. I wanted more. I wanted more feelings of success from them. Then I realized the conundrum. I have a creature, an ADULT ski student that has two opposing natures and they didn’t even know it (and neither did I prior to this point). 1) They are adults and adults are distinctly adverse to change. 2) They signed up for a ski lesson to improve their skiing which is inherently change. So the magic potion is introducing these two natures to each other and inviting one of them to leave. Adults can do that once they see it. Here is how I opened each of my adult ski lessons from that point forward:

“Hello, I’m Brian and I understand that you would like to improve your skiing. I just want you to know that “improve” is another word for “change” and you may not know this but change is quite uncomfortable especially for adults. You are paying me to help you to be uncomfortable and out of your element. The more willing you are to be uncomfortable the more you will get out of this lesson. Are you ready and willing to be uncomfortable?”

The looks entertained me as the students (now, no longer creatures because they closed the dichotomy of natures within them) connected the idea of change and discomfort to improvement and progress. They were more willing to look foolish and try new things, balance on one ski, fall down, take chances because of their “WHY”. Their “WHY” was to improve their skiing ability.

What is your biggest “WHY” today? This week? This quarter? This decade? The “why” is the “R” from our W.A.Y. S.M.A.R.T. goals standing for Relevant. How is this habit relevant in our lives? How will it increase the quality of our life? Now look at your biggest “why” alignment. Does today’s biggest “why” match or feed the biggest “why” of the next 5-10 years? Are you content where you are or are you continually changing?

If you’re as good as you’re gonna get, then your life is as good as it’s gonna be.
–Butch Bellah

No one regrets what they tried at and failed as much as they regret the things they never tried. I’m a work in progress.

GOOD NEWS: Change leads to a better life.

BAD NEWS: Making new habits takes work.

Forming habits takes a whole series of goals. We don’t know how long it takes to make a goal or behavior into a habit as the study showed it could be 18 to 254 days but that is only from the people in the study. There are two basic goal types: outcome goals and process or micro goals. An outcome goal is the destination, the result, or the outcome. An outcome goal although W.A.Y. S.M.A.R.T. may not exactly tell me what to do today. Here are a few outcome goals topics:

  • Qualify for the Junior Olympics
  • Quit my job
  • Double my income
  • Become debt free
  • Pay off the house

I call them outcome goal topics because they aren’t W.A.Y. S.M.A.R.T. yet. When setting these goals they are usually months to years in their “T” for time bound. Once I have them set up as W.A.Y. S.M.A.R.T. goals it is time to look at the habits I don’t yet have that someone who has achieve this goal already has. Identifying habits we want sets the structure for the process/micro goals we need now, today, this week, this month/quarter. Here are some W.A.Y. S.M.A.R.T. micro goals I might use:

  • Wake up at 5:00 a.m. every day
  • Eat dessert only 2 times per week
  • Take each of my children out on a daddy date once per month
  • Hug and kiss my wife when we end up in a room together (It is Valentines Day)

You could argue how W.A.Y. S.M.A.R.T. some of those goals are and I’m glad you did because that means you’re learning but they are at least good goal topics for process or micro goals. I think it is good for a W.A.Y. S.M.A.R.T. goal to have a short description that is easy to reference or refer to with my accountability team and my journal. Keeping your why in focus for outcome and process goals leads to habit formation.

Be careful that your micro goals look like what you want real life to be. I love to eat dessert and I went through a phase where my goal was to never eat dessert. I achieved the goal time and again but it never became a habit. Why? Remember the “Y” in W.A.Y. S.M.A.R.T. goals? It stands for “yours” and the goal of never eating desert wasn’t “mine”. I wanted to eat dessert while also wanting to maintain a healthy weight and body. Do I need to eat dessert every day to enjoy dessert? No. Do I need to give it up everyday to maintain my health? NO! Is eating dessert two times per week going to become a habit that fits both of those desires? Yeah I think so. I am no longer rigid about the number because it is no longer a goal. It has become a habit. It is automatic. It is triggered: near the conclusion of a meal, I automatically evaluate if the dessert is “standard” or “special” compare that to the timing, have I had dessert lately, and make an informed decision to eat or pass on dessert.

Triggers or cues are important tools in goal setting and habit formation as well. Our human behaviors are usually set in motion by a trigger or cue. Right now it is breakfast time and I feel a little trigger in my belly and I hear Leah upstairs whipping up some of her famous Belgian waffles in the blender. Just writing this, I’m salivating and taking stock and deciding how much would be healthy for me to eat despite how tasty they are.

Triggers cause natural responses like the salivating in the previous paragraph but we can also associate triggers with our goals which helps them become lasting habits. Planning how to use triggers increases our chances and levels of success. For example, my MasterMind group meets on Thursday night at 8:00. I use the end of dinner as my trigger which leads to my computer to review last weeks meeting and my weekly/daily goals. Gives me time to look at my one big thing, my greatest why, and sets my mind thinking on the next week’s goals that lead to my longer term outcome goals. Achieving those goals requires that I put the habits in place that people who have achieved those goals have in their life.

Triggers can take many forms. Triggers can be a certain time: when I first wake up, after a meal, when arriving at work, when departing work, when arriving home. They can be locations: church, school, work, the grocery, the park. They can also be interruptions: ringing phone or text, email pop-ups, door bells. When we attach our goals and future habits to effective triggers it aligns more with our animal instincts similar to fight or flight. We’ll talk more about it later but conversion of goals into habits increases our productivity and life quality.

GOOD NEWS: Once we have a new habit it becomes automatic and improves our quality of life.

It took me a while to break the habit of responding to all these interruption triggers but we’ll talk more about that next week when we discuss habit modification.

Answer the following in the comments below:

  1. What is your goal for this week?
  2. What habit will it lead to forming?
  3. What is your Why?