A common maxim is that it takes 30 days to form a new habit. If this is true, it should be fairly easy to cultivate new habits and make changes. After all, if you can stick with it for 30 days, supposedly you're all set after that. But is it really true? Is 30 days all it takes to form new habits and turn things around in your life?
The bottom line is that there's no guarantee you'll be able master a new habit or make all your desired changes successfully in just 30 days. When you consider all the variables involved with cultivating a new habit, it makes sense that different situations will require different amounts of time to garner results:
Given all the above variables, it's obvious that 30 days might not be enough to fully dislodge old patterns and replace them with new ones. It's important to realize this; otherwise, it's easy to get down on yourself when you find yourself still struggling after 30 days. The fact that you need to work on things for a longer period of time does not mean there's something wrong with you, it simply means you need to give yourself some more time and persevere, while addressing whatever barriers are getting in your way.
Having said that, 30 days is often a good length of time to focus on at first, because it allows you to plant seeds and have them take root. This process is critical when you're trying to cultivate new habits; it lays the foundation for you to move on to latter stages where your new habit gets solidified.
New Habits Are Formed in Stages
Rather than assuming that a new habit can be formed within a set period of time, a healthier approach is to view new habits as being formed in stages. As you first start to engage in behaviours associated with your new desired habit, you're in the stage of planting seeds. As you repeat those behaviours and see some impact, those seeds start to take root. It might take several weeks or months before you feel that your new habit has truly become second nature. There may also be occasions when you get distracted and fall off track. But with those seeds planted and taking root, it will become easier to regain focus and get back on track as time goes on.
If you haven't mastered your new habit within 30 days, don't beat yourself up or assume that something is wrong with you. Most importantly, don't give up! Whether you recognize it or not, something happened during that initial period: the seeds for your new habit were planted.
As you continue working towards your goal, you're watering those seeds and tending the soil. What you can't see during this time is how the roots are forming beneath the surface, which will anchor and nourish the plant. Likewise, the time and energy you invest—whether over 30 days or over several months—will nourish your efforts and yield results in the form of lasting new habits that improve your life.
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