As I commit to another fantastic month long health-forming challenge, I question one thing: How long does it really take to form long-term, sustainable, healthy new habits that seamlessly integrate into your life as though they have always been there? What type of commitment? Habits that once formed never part. Habits of a lifetime.
Forming life-long habits is not easy for me, not for lack of self-discipline or motivation. Rather, I fear for boredom and loss of creativity if committed too long to a particular habit so sometimes I flounder in my commitments. My fear is completely unfounded – I know – and has yet to materialize. Forming truly health-conscious, self-improvement habits clears the mind, strengthens the body, and wakes the spirit – in fact, they make room for creativity and new flows of energy. They bring new life into our lungs and a renewed sense of purpose into our hearts, lest we forget why we are living and lest we become complacent about self-commitment to rebuilding the best version of ourselves yet.
It takes time, patience, effort and planning to form new habits. It takes self-discipline, vigilance and a desire toward reaching this new state. Naturally, it varies for every individual and depends on a hundred factors. Some claim it takes 21 days to form a habit. For whom? Under what circumstances? What kind of habit? A habit to sustain for how long? I believe it depends greatly on who you are.
The 30-day challenge phenomena is no stranger to your ears if you have traveled the self-improvement circles lately. The idea is simple and logical: you challenge your body or your mind to adopt a new daily habit by repetition and automation. You will this new habit into your system and expect it to stay put and become second nature to your behavior. The question is what to do when the 30 days are up? What state of mind should you adopt in order to stay committed indefinitely?
From a 5-day juice fast to first a 10-day and then a 31-day yoga challenge, from commitment to daily meditation to the 20-day vegan diet (which I continue to enjoy), I simply love challenges. In the month of August, when I saw that our Sync Studio, home of my cycling passion, is running a 30-day wellness challenge, I could simply not resist the temptation to sign up. Still, I sometimes waver on my daily commitments. I am a huge fan of a fixed-number-of-days challenge idea but how do we train our mental state to manage “indefinitely” where our habits are concerned. How do we comfort our paranoia of sticking to something “forever” or “for the foreseeable future“?
In refusing to accept post-first-30-day lapses into our routine, below are 8 ways to approach both old and new habits, establish a new perspective and create a paradigm shift from the ordinary mindset into one of extraordinary possibilities:
1. Think of life as a circle instead of a straight line
If you have to imagine your life’s path, think of it as a circle. Circles, the shape of sun, moon and rings, the symbol of wholeness and unity, simply radiate calmness. Lines, on the other hand, can go deep into the unknown and uncertainty and stay hidden from view, if such were our visual view of the world. Imagine instead that your life and all your fantastic habits travel on a circle where you can see the end from any angle and which promptly brings you back to another beginning.
2. Let complimentary habits build upon each other
It is rare that we select habits that are worlds apart. Our personality is intertwined into the habits we wish to build so why not exploit the relevancy of our habits. Just as like people give each other energy, like habits can encourage one another to thrive. My top habits of choice are eating vegan, early rising, daily yoga and intense cardio these days. Perhaps I can turn “these days” into “the last few years” by letting one strong health-enhancing habit feed another. Think not how on earth you can make time for two habits; think instead how much easier it is to master two like habits than one great one. Find power in the relevance of your habits.
3. Accept starting over – even countless times – as progress
Starting over is not easy for some. For me, I used to declare defeat and move on to the next habit. My mental state of seeking “perfection” could not accept that I had failed and so I would move on to pursue a new something. Sometimes this turns out for the better. In fact, sometimes, the habit may not be suitable to your lifestyle, your personality or your long-term goals so listen to yourself. Always remember why you pursued this habit and if you hear a compelling response in return, tune in and listen to it – then allow yourself to fail and start over. It IS the best form of progress.
4. Practice firmness and kindness with yourself
My grandmother’s rule is to always be kind to myself and others. My rule to be firm with myself. The sweet combination is key to sustaining good habits but it takes self-awareness to develop. It is important to never lose the kindness to yourself; I have many times and always with regret in hindsight. Habits are incredibly difficult to form for some of us. Practice firmness and self-discipline when on target or ahead of your goals and practice kindness when you fall behind once a while. It is the ideal balance for helping your habits thrive beyond the 30-day initial phase.
5. Know the difference between support and competition
Competition with others or with yourself will not go as far in forming your habits as will a supportive community of like-minded people. Competition can work in building habits but I find it to be far less effective. With competition, we have a desire to surpass another person in a similar task whereas with support, we know it be a community of many vested in same goals as us and happy to see us succeed. The presence of on-going support as we build our lifelong habits will tip the scale from possible success to a definite one.
6. Understand life itself sometimes throws off habits
There are times when it really (really) is not your fault. There are days when life throws you a curve ball and you have to step back to take care of life immediately. Naturally, self-improvement habits step back in the presence of emergencies. Accept it. Remember only one thing: You can start over when the dust settles and you may just find renewed sense of purpose and motivation to continue on with your habits.
7. Repeat your fixed-day challenge more than once
Some researchers believe that it actually takes 66 days on average to form a habit. Other people report the same for 21 days, the magic number which locks the habit into our body and mind for good. Both ideas may have a dosage of truth – the determining factor is YOU. How long it takes you who is so individual and unique. If you belong in the first category, your best outcome is to do two back-to-back monthly challenges and re-build seeds of habitude more slowly but with deeper roots and stronger foundation.
8. Reject the falsehood of being too old or too weak or too incapable to change
There are senior citizens in my killer cycling class. They know not to allow age set artificial boundaries in their aspirations. Be just like that. Change takes guts so take a giant leap of faith into it. Act as a stubborn child who refuses to believe such outrageous claims. Think outside any box and in fact, crush the box. Create your own perfect box for life and decide between yourself, your body and your mind, that you are beautiful and powerful beyond your own imagination and it would be a shame not to find out just how much.