How Long Does It Take To Break A Habit?
Recently, I was presented with the opportunity to do an experiment. You see, I’ve heard it said that it takes 6 weeks to break a habit and ingrain any new behavior and I knew that was wrong. I’ve helped lots of people overcome habits and it can take as little as an instant. Here was my chance to prove it in another way.
I have two lights in my bathroom. I always use one, and when I go into the bathroom, I flip the light on without even thinking about it. It’s automatic — I have a habit of doing it that way. I don’t look at the switch, I don’t think about it. My hand just automatically goes to the right spot.
The bulb for that light burned out the other day and the first few times I went in, just like normal, switched on the light and… nothing. So, I decided to do an experiment. How long would it take for me to develop the habit of using the other switch, without thinking about it.
What I Didn’t Do — NLP & Hypnosis
I could have looked deep into my “light turning on” strategy and done swish patterns. I could have used self-hypnosis to speed up the process. I could have used a rubber band to snap my wrist every time I did it wrong. But I wanted to see how long it would take to reprogram my automatic mind if I did nothing but remind myself to do it the new way. I avoided berating myself if I didn’t remember or using all-or-none thinking. “I fell off the wagon, I guess I lost all my progress. I suck.”
What I Did
When I’d go in and turn on the wrong switch, I’d simply remind myself to use the other one. If I remembered to use the new switch, I said “Good job’ to myself. The first days I forgot most of the time. On the third day, I only missed it once. By day four, the new way was automatic.
What Does This Mean?
Now, here’s the thing. I didn’t have any emotional attachment to turning any particular light switch on. Nor was my motivation great for doing it the new way. That’s great, because it meant I could test the automaticity of the habit. It turns out, for a simple action like that, it took me four days without using any NLP or hypnosis tricks. So, next time someone tells you it takes 6 weeks to change a habit, call B.S.
Why Is Breaking A Habit Sometimes A Lot Harder Than This?
There are a lot of components that go into how easy it is to break a habit. If you help break habits or want to break one yourself, it’s important to know what makes breaking habits easier. There’s the automaticity of the habit (how programmed it is). Then there’s the motivational component. If you get some good physical/emotional sensation from the habit (the pleasure from eating rich food, for instance), it makes the habit harder to break. That’s why it’s important to understand what the criteria is for a habit. Does smoking relax someone? Does eating rich food give a feeling of freedom? Does biting nails relieve stress? Once you understand what the criteria are (there can be more than one criterion for any habit), you have leverage. Using NLP and hypnosis, you can separate that good feeling from the habit and get more of that good feeling from not doing it! I teach how to do that in my hypnosis course.
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