This article originally appeared on Inspired Investor.
Whether it’s drinking eight glasses of water a day, quitting smoking or breaking a bad investment pattern that’s not working for you, forming a new habit — and, more importantly, actually keeping it — takes time. But how much time, exactly? Well, that’s where opinions differ. Read on to find out more about some of the popular beliefs when it comes to honing new habits.
5 seconds (for real!)
One of the most popular TEDx talks (17.5 million views and counting!) is from life coach Mel Robbins. In it, she shares the 5-Second Rule. According to Robbins, we spend 40 per cent of our day on “autopilot,” operating out of habit. “If you have the instinct to act on a goal, you must physically move within five seconds or your brain will kill it.” Learn to grab onto that feeling rather than push your new habit to the furthest corner of your brain.
Making an investment decision in five seconds without doing your due diligence may not be the best tactic, but there are many investing-related habits that are easy to act on quickly. For example, setting up a pre-authorized contribution (PAC) plan lets you pay yourself first by directing money to your savings and investments automatically. Boom! An instant new savings habit.
An old adage says it takes three days to break a habit. Whatever the time period, your chances of success will be much better if you start a new habit at the same time, says Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Charles Duhigg in The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. Once you’ve replaced an old practice (maybe your tendency to invest impulsively) with a new behaviour (ask yourself if an investment is right for you first and do some research), repeat it three times in a row to make it your new norm.
For five decades, following the 1960 publication of the uber-popular pop psychology book Psycho-Cybernetics, conventional wisdom maintained that the magic number of days to change a behaviour was 21. According to author and plastic surgeon Dr. Maxwell Maltz, that’s at least how long it took for his patients to get used to their new looks. Pop psychologists hopped aboard this easy three-week idea, but modern thinkers know that overhauling habits is not so cut and dried.
Rather than focus on a certain length of time, business coach Tom Bartow says that habit formation has three phases: The Honeymoon, The Fight Thru and Second Nature. In the first phase, we feel inspired, and change even feels easy. Then reality sets in, and we struggle to stay the course. Eventually, if we stick it out, the new habit starts to feel like second nature. At some point, we may find ourselves back in phase two, but we can “fight thru” it again, he says.
66 Days (aka, slow and steady wins the race)
Though overhauling a habit in just a few days or weeks sounds efficient, most people know deep down that changing behaviour can take more time. A more realistic goal, according to a study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, is about two months — and the more complex the behaviour, the longer it takes. How does the saying go? Good things come to those who … work hard?
Of course, there are many who are less patient, as in …
Zero Days, aka, going cold turkey
Before forming a new habit, you often want to break an old one — which, like yanking off a Band-Aid, is sometimes best done fast. Quitting cold turkey can be surprisingly effective, with one major caveat: you have to really want it. In a study about smoking cessation, published in Annals of Internal Medicine, participants were divided into two groups: abrupt quitters and gradual quitters. After a month, almost half of the abrupt quitters were still smoke-free, whereas only 39.2 per cent of gradual quitters managed to resist lighting up.
What’s interesting is that within the abrupt quitter group, those who preferred the abrupt route before the study began — that is, people who seemed especially motivated — were more successful: 58 per cent were smoke-free after a month, compared to 42 per cent of abrupt quitters who would’ve preferred the gradual route.
Whatever approach you take, don’t give up too soon. Then you can sit back and reap the rewards of your new habit — you deserve it!
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