When To Start A New Habit (and when to keep plugging away at the old ones)

Wondering when to start a new habit? Or if you should keeping working on solidifying an old one? Click through for tips on goal setting, building good habits and breaking bad ones!

I see the question pop into the chat box, followed immediately by three thumbs up emojis.

And then a “Yeah, I was wondering that, too!”

And a “YESSSSS.”

Which is how I realized I should probably write a blog post answering one of the most common questions I get when I talk + teach about habits.

One of the most common questions I get from Make It Stick Habit School students (enrollment for the live version opens March 19th!) is “How will I know that I’ve built my habit? How will I know that it’s ‘done’ and I can move on the next one?”

Which is a great question, right? Because we all want to believe that if we do our morning pages or work out or drink green tea for, like, five days we have a new habit!

But that’s not how it works. If you’re wondering when to start a new habit – or if should keep strengthening an older one – this post is for you.

When To Start A New Habit (+ when to keep plugging away at the old ones)

1. When in doubt, work on your new habit for longer than you think you need to

Have you ever done that thing where you do something good or productive for, like, seven days in a row and then you high five yourself over your new habit? And then you take on another new habit on day eight?

Yeah! Me, too! That’s called “The first two weeks of January, 2002 – 2015”.

It feels good to tell ourselves that a habit is ‘done’ or that it’s solidified! But the truth is that ‘21-days-to-a-new-habit’ thing is total B.S. Psychologists says it’s actually closer to 66 days. And it can vary from 12 days to 265 days (!!!) depending on the person and the habit.

When we tell ourselves that our tender, fragile new habit is firm and ready to face the challenges and temptations of the real world, we’re setting ourselves up for failure.

So here’s my rule of thumb: work on one new habit at a time, for at least 65 days. If you’re not sure if your new habit ‘took’? Work on it even longer.

Habits – just like most things in life – take longer than we’d like. In fact, a truism I’ve come to accept is: Pretty much everything takes twice as long and costs twice as much as we’d like. But if we know that we can budget our time, money, and energy accordingly. Click To Tweet

2. You’ll know your new habit is ‘set’ when your life feels weird without it

I have a nearly-set-in-stone set of morning habits. I’ve been doing them for so long that if I miss one of the habits I feel off balance and incomplete. If I don’t read fiction on the couch? If I don’t make my bed? WHO AM I EVEN I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO WITH MYSELF.

That awkward incomplete feeling? That’s how you know that a habit is ‘set’ and that it’s truly taken root in your life.

If you feel strange when if you don’t meditate, don’t text your mom, don’t drink a big glass of water with every meal – congrats! You’ve developed a habit that’s part of your life. Go forth and prosper! Enjoy the benefits of a nearly-on-autopilot habit what will make your life awesome without you having to think about it!

But if you feel sneaky or relieved when you skip a habit – like you’re getting away with something – that means you’ve got a ways to go before it’s really part of you life.

But I want to hear from you! Do you try to convince yourself that a habit is solidified way too early? What habit are you working on right now? I’m ‘saving’ my habit for the next round of Habit School so I can work on it alongside everybody!

P.S. How to strengthen your good habit muscle!

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

4 Comments

Stephanie

I know something has become a habit when I quit thinking “God, I have to do this every day FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE.” When it becomes so much a part of my routine that I plan time for it every single day, even when I’m on vacation. Even when I’m sick. Some days I modify, but those habitual things always happen.

There have been a couple of habits I have that have taken me a year to get to that point. But my life is so much better for them, even though at first I felt like I was slogging through mud and muck to make it happen.

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Sarah Von Bargen

Yes! It’s important to remember that AT SOME POINT those efforts will turn into habits!

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