Based on these readings, it seems that how long it takes you to form a habit depends on the habit you’re trying to form. Quitting smoking perhaps comes to our minds first when we think about habits. I don’t think I’ve known anyone who has successfully quit smoking in twenty-one days. As though if you can get through that three-week period, you’ll be emancipated of any bad habit you’d like. So, is forming a healthy habit or getting rid of a bad one about repetition and consistency, like the twenty-one day model appears to suggest? Or, is it more about being able to realize the benefits of a healthy habit (or ditching an unhealthy one)?
For the past 30 days, myself and a group of people I know through Facebook have been taking part in a 30-day workout challenge. The concept is simple. Complete twenty to thirty minutes of exercise every day for 30 days. Today, Day 30, was one of the harder days to do something, and to be honest, if I didn’t feel accountable to the others in the group, I might have chosen that extra hour of sleep over my workout, but I’ve learned a few things over these past 30 days.
As discussed in an article from Forbes titled “Habit Formation: The 21-Day Myth” there are three phases to habit formation: the honeymoon, the fight [through], and second nature. After 30 days, I can say with confidence that I’m in phase two, the fight [through]. (The article says thru. I refuse to think of this phase as comparable to going through a fast food drive-thru, which is often more about waiting for your turn than fighting for something that you want, so, through it is.)
This morning I asked myself how I would feel if I didn’t go for a run. Actually, it wasn’t really a question so much as telling myself that I knew exactly how bad I would feel for the rest of the day if I didn’t go for a run. I also thought about a part in the book I’m reading, Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. In it, he’s training for the New York City Marathon and is talking about the importance of building and maintaining a solid base:
Muscles are like work animals that are quick on the uptake. If you carefully increase the load, step by step, they learn to take it. As long as you explain your expectations to them by actually showing them examples of the amount of work they have to endure, your muscles will comply and gradually get stronger...If, however, the load halts for a few days, the muscles automatically assume they don’t have to work that hard anymore, and they lower their limits. Muscles really are like animals, and they want to take it as easy as possible…
Besides running and building my base over the past 30 days, I’ve rediscovered yoga, something I haven’t done in years. At first, I wasn’t really into it. Maybe it's because I run, I have it in my head that I’m not working out if I’m not sweating and struggling. But yoga is a struggle for me. I suck at it. I’m not flexible...AT ALL. I gave it a couple tries and wanted to give up, but my hips love yoga. They’ve been sore and achy since the New York City Marathon back in November. But yoga makes them happy and allows me able to run more than three miles without them hurting. So, I’ve been converted.
As far as forming a habit, I don’t know that I can call running a habit. I do it a lot. I think about running a lot. I often want to be running when I’m not, but I also often struggle to get out the door. Especially in the winter, those cold, dark mornings. The truth is, I basically only run when I’m training for a race. I always tell myself that I’d like to stay in “half marathon shape.” But I don’t. I build up my fitness for whatever race I’m doing, and then I let it fall off and start over again. After 30 days, I can say I’m in a better athletic state of being than I was 30 days ago and that I feel motivated to keep going, but I could also say that I’ve been trying to form a habit of running frequently for about four years. Maybe I need to change that workout challenge to a 254-day workout challenge. Who's with me? Only 224 days to go!
Melissa Dahl "Think It'll Take 21 Days to Make Your Resolution a Habit? Try Tripling That"
NPR "Habits: How They Form and How to Break Them"
Yoni Freedhoff "Does it Only Take 3 Weeks to Form a Habit?"