Skip to content

The Shocking Truth About Developing Good Habits (part 1)

By Leslie Rouder, LCSW

Are you a person who believes that you always do what you intend to do?  Most people would probably answer yes.  However, despite what you may believe,  research shows that the majority of people, do not.  In fact, most individuals have far less control then they believe they do.  As frustrating as this may be, there are ways of establishing good habits and overcoming those existing ones that seem to get in our way.  But first let’s look at how habits are formed, as well as the obstacles we face in overcoming the existing ones that prevent us from achieving our goals. 

It has often been said that it takes 3 weeks of repeating a behavior for it to become a habit.  However, when looking into this further, I discovered that this is actually not true.  In most cases, it takes much longer.  (WEW! That sure let’s me off the hook for all those times I thought I would  have it down in a month’s time, only to discover that I had not.)  In fact, it was discovered in a recent study that for most habits to become automatic, one must perform them repeatedly for an average of 66 days and in many other cases (depending on the particular activity) longer than 84.  In this same study, it was discovered that some (more difficult habits) took as much as 254 days to form, which is the better part of a year.  It’s no wonder so many of us are unable to keep our New Year’s Resolutions.  

Since helping individuals to develop and enforce good habits, is part of my work as a coach, I understand the importance of developing well intentioned habits as being vital to ones success in reaching ones goals.  In this effort, I did some research and discovered some perplexing studies about our habits and why it is often so difficult to do what we intend. 

Have you ever tried to change a particular behavior only to realize that it was not as easy as you thought?  How many times have you said you wanted to lose weight, exercise daily, quit smoking, change jobs, or cut down on drinking?  What do you suppose the success rate was for the average person? Studies have shown that for the majority of people who attempt to change their behavior, old strongly held habits dominated their conscious choices.  This is because it is not our conscious mind that is in the drivers seat.  In fact, it is the power of the unconscious mind that influences all of our thinking and behavior.  Our strong established habits will automatically override our conscious intentions in most cases.  Now, combine that fact with the length of time it takes to form a strong habit, it is easy to see just how difficult it can be to establish new habits on any consistent basis. 

This being the case, what’s the answer to this frustrating phenomena?  How do we overcome the unconscious programming of our minds, when we are not even consciously aware of them and why don’t our habits surrender to our conscious intentions?   Consider these 4 essential characteristics of habits;

  1. Habits are performed automatically, without much need for decision- making or thought. 
  2. Habits are emotionless.
  3. Habits are performed in context to other things. (That is, they are  situational.) 
  4. Habits serve a purpose and/or provide us with something. (consciously or unconsciously)      

So, in considering what it is we want to do, versus what we actually do, the first thing we need to notice is the behaviors supporting our existing habits.  By observing how, when and where we perform these automatic activities we get vital hints as to  what is actually happening in the unconscious mind.  Since our unconscious mind is constantly carrying out all kinds of high-level thinking that we are unaware of, as well as unable to access through our ordinary thought process, it would make sense that we would have to consider alternate ways to do this.   One of the ways that assist us in accessing our unconscious mind is in asking the right questions about our process.   Another way to access this hidden part of our mind is through the use of NLP or hypnosis.  In fact, some of the quickest changes I have seen have come out of using all three of these modalities.  

In my next newsletter article I will explore the answers further and assist in providing some solutions to this very difficult dilemma. 

If you have experiences with overcoming or establishing new habits that you would like to share, please let me know. I am always interested in hearing  and learning from other’s experiences. 

Leslie is a holistic therapist working in South Florida who specializes in the treatment of ADD in adults.