Many years ago, I was told it takes 21 days to make or break a habit. As an example, if you want to make your bed every day, you need to do it for 21 days straight. If you skip any day during the 21 days, you have to start the count over. If, on the 22nd day, you don’t make your bed, you will feel guilty, and supposedly that means you have formed the habit. Whenever I am trying to make changes in my life, I always think about that.
I would argue however, that habits you want to break take much longer, especially if the habit has been ingrained in your life for a very long time. These I might term more accurately as addictions. I can’t tell you how long it would take to break an addiction as the only serious addiction I have is chocolate, and well, I’m not giving that up. I’m not trying to make light of addictions or addicts, I have known a few and their struggles to break their addiction is no laughing matter.
Besides, I’m writing about habits. Such as flossing your teeth, (I would hope everyone already has a good habit of brushing your teeth every day), rinsing your dishes and putting them in the dishwasher, putting your dirty clothes in the laundry basket and not on the floor, cleaning up your toys before bedtime, just to name a few.
It often helps to have a spouse or partner work on the same habit because you can encourage each other. And occasionally, I need all the help I can get to stay focused.
Really, it is nothing more than “Behavior Modification”, and much has been written about it. Most of what I have read in the last 5 years was due to my son Wendell, and working to eliminate negative behaviors by building more appropriate behaviors. It’s always been difficult with him because his “reinforcer” (the reward, the carrot), could and would change on a daily basis, or even hourly.
Since the beginning of the year (no, not a New Year’s resolution), I have been requiring Wendell to put his toys away before going to bed. This is just as much establishing a positive habit/behavior/routine for him as it is for me. Since I am the one who has to motivate myself to ensure he does clean up, I have to remember to get the task done early in the evening before he becomes too tired and cranky. We’ve been mostly successful, and what we’ve forgotten, I will carry up and put them in his room.
As for habits I’ve been working on, I mentioned flossing teeth. I started that New Year’s Eve, (but not a resolution), and have done it the entire month of January. Problem is, I really hate to floss my teeth, 21 days or not, this will be hard for me to keep up.
Making Wendell’s bed has been a long standing habit, we do that together after he gets dressed. But my bed, not consistently. DJ bought the beautiful, Amish quilt pictured above, for my birthday in June, and that has been incentive to make the bed. I’ve been going pretty strong on that since December.
So, bottom line, 21 days to make a new habit. What would you like to start doing?