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by Geoff Rand

With the healthy eating challenge over, I took notice of some of the comments people were making in the Box and on Facebook in reference to their successes and failures they experienced.  I was happy to see a good number of people were happy with their experience and plan to continue on with the program and build upon the good habits they developed.

It’s no secret that making healthy changes part of your daily routine is the way to stay on track to a lifetime of health and fitness, but just how long does it take to make a new way of doing something become habit?

You may have heard the saying that it takes 21 days to develop something into habit. Unfortunately, this isn’t completely accurate and it seems over time, the original meaning was lost.  Here’s how it happened.

In the 1950s, plastic surgeon Dr. Maxwell Maltz noticed there was an adjustment period for his patients to become accustomed to their new look.   He commented that “These, and many other commonly observed phenomena tend to show that it requires a minimum of 21 days for an old mental image to dissolve and a new one to jell. ”

That quote, and Dr. Maltz’s other thoughts on behavior change were published in 1960 in his book Psycho-Cybernetics.  The book went on to sell 30 million copies and suddenly every self-help guru and their mother was quoting Maltz.  Over time, the minimum part of the 21 days was dropped, and 3 weeks became the standard for developing something into habit.  The problem with Maltz’s observation was that it was nothing more than an observation he made, not a tested fact.  But, with his misquoted statement being repeated over and over again, it became the accepted truth.

Later, scientific studies showed that the time period varies from person to person in how long it takes something to become habit.  On average, it takes 66 days for someone to develop a new behavior into his or her routine, however, this time can be obviously longer or shorter depending on a variety of factors.

Bringing all this back to our healthy eating challenge, the challenge was 8 weeks or 56 days.  We’re a little short of the average time it takes to turn those changes we made into habits.  One could surmise that those who had success during the challenge were quicker to adapt these changes into their daily routines, and those who weren’t as successful maybe just needed some more time to develop those same habits.

It doesn’t matter if the change you’re looking to make is eating better, drinking more water, attending more CFF classes, or stopping the biting of your nails, the path to change follows the same guidelines.

Know your why.  Have a clear reason for making the change.  It could be as simple as wanting to look good for a reunion, or as serious as a doctor’s ultimatum.

Take one day at a time.  Instead of being overwhelmed by a long journey to change, look at what you can do today and tomorrow to better yourself.

Take small bites.  Look at small changes you can implement.  I have a friend who decided to eat better and to work towards that goal, he would eliminate one poor food choice and replace it with a healthy one each week.  One week, he’d cut out ranch dressing, the next, breads.  He continued on like this until his nutrition was nearly optimal, and his performance in the gym was greatly improved.  Breaking your trek up into smaller, more achievable goals helps keep you motivated and moving in the right direction.

Don’t sweat small setbacks.  It’s inevitable that you will experience failures during your quest for change.  Whether it is because of work, family, or other events, things don’t always go to plan.  Don’t let a day of poor eating choices, or schedule conflicts make you totally abandon your goal.  Get through the day and get back on track tomorrow.

Make it easy.  Set that water bottle out where you’ll remember to drink it.  Schedule reminders on your phone.  Put a Post-It note on your steering wheel.  Do whatever works for you to keep that good behavior in sight.

Stay accountable.  Having a partner or even a whole family working towards the same goal as you is a huge motivational booster.  Commit to attending class, prepping foods, etc. and expect your partner will do the same.  Call each other out on social media to keep each other honest if that works for you.

Don’t wait for the perfect time to start.  Life is full of obstacles and putting off starting to make a change because of upcoming holidays, family or work events, vacations, etc. will just delay you reaching your goal.  Start today and stay with it.  In time, your newly developed habits will allow you to roll right over these barriers and get on with your life.

Above all, be patient.  It would be great if we could flick a switch and make instant changes stick, but it doesn’t work that way.  You’ve likely been reinforcing the bad habit for years so don’t expect change overnight.  Give it time and the new practices will begin to set and become part of your daily routine.