Rituals and routines are a huge part of our daily lives, whether we recognize them or not. Some of these things may have become so heavily ingrained as habits that we may not actually realize we're executing them until we've finished and we've moved on to our next activity. What we may not realize about routines, however, is that they're actually doubly beneficial.
Benefit #1: The late, great Vince Lombardi once said, "Only practice makes perfect," and it's hard to deny the logic behind this statement. These words don't only apply to professional sports championships, though. They also apply to the everyday lives of everybody else as well. Because routines involve the repetition of a particular task or behavior, they help you improve on these activities. And when you improve your execution of an activity, and thereby improve the results of the activity, you feel a sense of achievement.
Benefit #2: Simply put, routines help us to cope with change. There are countless things in our daily lives that we have absolutely no control over, and thus when changes occur in our environment, we are forced into a situation where we have to adapt in order to proceed. Now, this adapt-and-go situation can exist in a variety of magnitudes, and it is therefore important to realize and remember that just because a change may be perceived as small, the resulting interruption may be disproportionately large -- results will vary from person to person. Our routines largely involve things over which we have direct control, which is why we crave them -- they help us stay grounded and balanced.
Both of these benefits can combine to provide a way for us each to hold on to our mental health throughout the day, which can be considered almost a superpower in times like today when it feels as though we control almost nothing in our external environment. One thing that I constantly talk about with my therapist is my continued effort to set and maintain routines so that I feel more in control of my day, which allows me to keep my anxiety at a more manageable level. And this can absolutely be done.
According to an article written by Dr. Danielle Forshee, Doctor of Psychology and Licensed Clinical Social Worker, current research suggests that it takes an average of 21 days (or three weeks) to create new habits, but don’t let this mislead you – this does not mean that you will definitely form a brand new habit from scratch in 21 days flat. This reported timeframe represents and average, meaning that some people take a lot longer to do so, while others may take less time, so take this with a grain of salt while we introduce you to some more information so you can form your own opinion based on medically-reviewed facts.
In 2009, the European Journal of Social Psychology published an article that attempted to model the formation of habits. To make a long story short in this regard, the study concluded that it takes anywhere from 18 to 254 days (or an average of 66 days) for a person to form a new habit. And while this rather large timeframe can be disheartening if you dwell upon it, it can serve to underscore the importance of consistency and repetition. What’s more, the length of time required to make a new behavior automatic is largely dependent upon the habit in question. Is it simple or is it complicated? How much discipline does it require? According to the study, it was considered easier to adopt a new habit that involved drinking a glass of water at breakfast than it was to do 50 sit-ups after a morning cup of coffee.
So, what does it take to change habits? According to Dr. Nora D. Volkow, MD, a Mexican-American psychiatrist and Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) at the National Institutes of Health, the first step in doing so is to become more aware of your current habits and behaviors. This will allow you to recognize what is currently working for you and what isn’t, and then you can identify ways in which you want to change them. For instance, a 2012 study published in the British Journal of General Practice, habits boil down to behaviors that are triggered as an automatic response to “contextual clues that have been associated with their performance.” Thus, Dr. Volkow suggests that one strategy by which you can change your habits is to identify the places, people, or activities that are linked to your habits and change your behavior and actions towards those as a first step.
We’ve said it before, but it is important to reinforce the simple fact that there is no “one size fits all” solution to anything regarding your personal mental health. In other words, be patient with yourself and give yourself a reasonable and appropriate amount time to fully understand and commit to the change you want.
- Habit Formation: The 21-Day Myth
- A Little Help Here: Changing Your Habits
- Breaking Bad Habits | NIH News in Health
- How Long Does It Really Take to Form a Habit? 7 Things to Consider