It takes 21 days to create and keep a new habit. At least, that's the common knowledge, right?!
But have you ever tried adopting a new habit and even stayed it with for awhile only to ditch the behavior a few weeks later?
You're not alone.
Habits are autonomous behaviors. They are so ingrained into our actions that most of the time, they occur without our awareness. This is why creating or breaking a habit can be extremely difficult.
To explore this idea further, think of habits as a cue and response. You are either physically, mentally or emotionally cued by something, and you automatically respond to that stimulus in a certain way.
Let's talk about an example of cue and response. When washing your hair, your shampoo does not need to create a lather in order to properly clean. However, many of us are so accustomed to the cue of a foaming lather that if we were to lose this familiar cue, would not have the response of feeling like our hair has been thoroughly washed. Companies producing a non foaming shampoo have struggled to gain market share because of this issue with cue and response.
Using the example of shampoo, think of other behaviors that occur during the day that are triggered from certain cues. After receiving a hostile email from a coworker or customer, you may decide to get up from your desk and wander over to the break room. Great news! Someone bought donuts for the office so without hesitation, you pick one up. Now that you've finished your treat and settled your mind, you head back to your desk and get back to work.
In this example, the cue was the hostile email. Something came along and attracted your attention (whether this was positive or negative attention). In order to properly respond to this stimulus, you left your desk and ate a free food without thinking. Maybe even earlier that day, you were offered a donut and declined but after experiencing the cue, your body went into an automatic food response.
I'll tell you my story about breaking a food habit:
Personally, I'm someone who used to always take advantage of free food. My fear of being hungry trumped my fear of eating useless calories. In this situation, my cue was seeing free food and my response was to eat because I thought I would feel worse if I was a little hungry. After realizing that my eating had nothing to do with actual starvation, just the fear of it, I modified my response to feel joy for turning down the food. Instead of walking away and feeling like I made a mistake, I can walk away and feel happiness for my choice.
Instead of simply trying to adopt a new habit or break an existing one, think about the origin of that behavior. There is a cue or stimulus that is making you respond in this way. The reason you keep skipping a workout could be much deeper than just laziness. The reason you eat empty calories could actually be a reaction to some cue you interact with during the day.
Once you've identified your cue, you can begin to change your habit.
Thanks for reading!