How Long Does It Take To Form A Lifelong Habit

We have all heard the saying “To form a habit, it takes 21 days” but in reality,  how long does it take to form a sustainable behavior change? To form a sustainable habit and/or behavior change, it can take anywhere between 18 to 254 days. Each person will form a sustainable habit and/or behavior change in a different time frame as it is depends on what behavior and/or habit is being established. It also will depend on the person himself/herself as well as the circumstances.

During appointments, I have heard too many times when clients and/or patients are very hard on themselves. They put themselves down and say “I was doing so well but I fell off the bandwagon. I can’t seem to get back on track. I’ve given up because what I want to achieve is impossible. That’s why I am here. I need help.”  It’s good to have an overall goal but to be successful at achieving a behavior change and/or forming a new habit, you need to set yourself up for success by forming a string of SMART goals.

What are SMART goals?

S: Specific

M: Measurable

A: Attainable

R: Realistic/ Relevant

T: Timeframe

You are most definitely allowed to have a long term goal (e.g. I would like to feel more energized or I would like to lose 50 lbs in 3 years). During an initial consultation, when I asked individuals why he/she has come to see me, common answers include: I have digestive issues (I want to feel better), I want to lose weight, I want to control my blood sugars, I want to lower my cholesterol, etc. After doing a complete assessment of lifestyle and eating habits, I provide individualized recommendations. At this point, I ask the patient what are some goals he/she would like to work on once they get home. He/she typically would answer: I will follow whatever you suggested. This type of answer usually leads to a follow up email of “I am overwhelmed. I don’t know where to  begin.” This is why before the end of all appointments, I do set aside some time for clients to set SMART goals. For someone to make a change, a goal has to be meaningful to him/her. Once you have set your long term goal ,what steps are you going to take to achieve this end result? To achieve your desired end result, you will need to develop SMART goals.

An example of a SMART goal to help achieve 50 lbs weight loss in 2 years would be:

I would like to lose 5 lbs in half a year by incorporating the following initial changes into my lifestyle:

a) I will use the elliptical for 30 minutes 3x/week.

b) I will only drink water (flat or carbonated with or without flavor) but will not have any other sugar sweetened beverages (e.g. juice, blended beverages such as smoothies or frappucinos, etc.).

c) I will limit my intake of alcoholic beverages to 2 glasses of wine per week.

Do you see how breaking down the large overarching goal into smaller goals can be viewed as more attainable and/or achievable?

Make sure that your smart goal is challenging enough for you to feel motivated. Make a SMART goal that forces you out of your comfort zone but realistic enough for you to know that you are able to achieve. SMART goals can change. Depending on what your SMART goal is, the end goal may have been achieved sooner than anticipated. This means you can start on your next SMART goal to help achieve your long term goal.

Recognize that you will have times where you have downfalls but pick yourself right back up. Know that it takes anywhere between 18 to 254 days before a sustainable habit an/or behavior change is formed. Hold yourself accountable. No one but you can make the change.

Food For Thought: As we enjoy the last little bit of summer, we all need to get back into routine. Are there any habits and/or behavior changes you’d like to form and/or change? What is your overall goal? What steps are you going to take to achieve this goal? What is your SMART goal?

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