Stanford University neuroscientist Andrew Huberman explains that 70% of humans’ waking behavior is habitual. So much of our day is spent engaging in habits that we’ve built up over time. But what if we’re trying to build new habits? I will explain how this works and how to optimize your habit-building!
Building and breaking habits is a task related to our nervous system.
Simply put: New habit -> New neural circuits
This action is called neuroplasticity! Our nervous system can always learn and adapt to new habits by changing neural pathways. Neuroplasticity occurs whether we’re creating a good or bad habit, and whether these habits are formed consciously or subconsciously.
A typical question when it comes to building healthy habits is: how many days/months/years does it take for a habit to stick? How much time do I need to put into building new habits? I have your answer. Psychologist Phillippa Lally conducted a study in 2010 where she asked a group of individuals to work on building one specific habit: taking a walk straight after dinner.
How did Lally decide when a habit was considered formed? If the participant takes the walk 85% of the time, and it does not take much mental effort to do it: habit = formed.
Results heavily ranged when Lally reported how many days it took for this habit to stick for a given person. At the end of the study, Phillippa Lally reported that it took 18-254 days for the average person to form a habit (specifically, walking after dinner). So, there’s your answer- it really ranges. Everyone is different, and some people simply need more time to form a habit.
Whether it takes 18 days or 254 to form a new habit, you can follow Phillippa Lally’s habit-building program. Lally’s study led to her understanding of the ‘21-Day Habit Timeline,’ which means that it takes 21 days to engage neural plasticity used for habit building. From Lally’s newfound understanding of timelines, neuroplasticity, and the person-by-person difference in habit building, Lally formed her scientifically proven program which supports building healthy habits.
Lally’s habit program:
This program, as previously stated, takes 21 days. Before the 21 days begin, write out 6 new habits you seek to accomplish. There’s a caveat here, though. Even though you write out 6 new habits that you will do, you MUST only expect to complete 4-5.
Next: do these habits daily for 21 days (and be OKAY with only completing 4-5 of the 6 written habits).
How is this effective? This approach to forming habits is NOT based on the habit itself (that you want to have in the future), but instead, is based on the HABIT of PERFORMING habits. How interesting is that! Instead of doing the habits themselves, you trick your mind instead of getting so used to scheduling the time for 6 habits that ultimately, it will be part of your schedule.
Now, this 21-day program has another useful tool within it. By figuring out when in your schedule you will perform these 6 habits, and only anticipate accomplishing 4-5, you will inherently learn your boundaries. Maybe you’re at a time in your life where completing 5 habits is simply not feasible, so you will set a new expectation to complete 3-4 once the 21 days end. So take Lally’s program and run with it! Try it for yourself, and see if you can trick your neural networks into building new pathways and securing new healthy habits.