Over the holidays in Chicago, I stepped outside to move my car when my Dad pulled me aside and said, "Do you hear that?"
Sure enough –an eerie chirping filled the air. I’d never heard anything like it before. Then he pointed to the sky, where hundreds of cranes were flying at what looked to be the cruising altitude of a 747.
They’re known as the Sandhill Cranes, and they are one of the oldest living birds on the planet. They can fly 200-300 miles per day - sometimes even 500 with a tail wind. But these birds are actually leisurely and opportunistic travelers.
Instead of flying in formation like geese, they seek out thermals (rising hot air) and tail winds to carry them throughout their journey. In fact, they ride thermals so well that they’ve even been spotted soaring over Mt. Everest.
But without the help of thermals, they try to muscle through - and have been known to drop out of the sky from exhaustion.
Riding thermals and tail winds are somewhat like riding your habits. You can resort to willpower and flap your way forward. Or simply catch the tail wind and let it carry you along. That’s what habits do.
They require no extra willpower.
At first, starting a habit feels like the wind is blowing in your face, but eventually the wind changes direction. Then with the wind at your back, they feel natural and almost effortless. But how long does it take to create a new habit?
21 days, right? Not exactly.
A study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology looked at the truth about habit creation. Subjects picked one new habit such as “drinking a bottle of water” or “running for 15 minutes” and every day tracked their behavior and how automatic it was.
The results: On average, it took 66 days before a habit became automatic. In fact, habit-creation took anywhere between 18 days to 254 days!
So even if you’ve blown past the 21 day mark – keep going. Because it may take longer before it becomes automatic and effortless. But it will happen.
So learn to ride your habits, instead of willpower. They’ll carry you much farther.
One more thing:
Researchers also found: “Missing one opportunity to perform the behavior did not materially affect the habit formation process.” So even if you’ve slipped up, you can still bounce back quickly – and form that new habit.
For more ways to form new nutrition and exercise habits check out my monthly "coaching session" in print.
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