Depending on which behavioral psychologist that you ask, it takes about 21 days to form a habit. In essence, anything that you do for 21 days or longer becomes habitual, or something that is a regular part of your regime, routine, or process. We all know that there are some really good habits, but there are also those pesky, little bad habits. With good habits, it’s something you hope to hang on to forever. It can be something like eating vegetables or drinking the appropriate amount of water. Maybe it’s regular exercise or good money management. Whatever the good habit is, we may make a purposeful effort to do it, or it may be something that was passed on to us from parents and we don’t even realize that we are doing.
Recently I’ve been thinking about bad habits that I have formed. There are a lot of bad habits! There may even be more bad ones than good ones in my life. Similar to good habits, these can be purposeful things we do, or again, something that has been passed down to us or patterns that we’ve seen growing up. I remember hearing a news story about an athlete. This athlete spent most of his career publicly lamenting the fact that his father abandoned him, his mother, and siblings and went off and started another family. Then, later on in his career, this athlete allegedly went out and did exact the same thing to his wife and kids. He left them, and started a whole new family. This really baffled me at first, but at the same time, it made perfect sense. He had spent his life being hurt by the wounds his father inflicted, but gone improperly dealt with, he found himself repeating the same mistakes. He couldn’t break the cycle.
The same psychologists that say it takes 21 days to form a new habit also say that it takes about the same amount of time to break bad habits. Think about that. It takes just as much time, energy and effort to form good habits as it does to settle in and accept bad ones. To me this means that all the bad cycles and patterns of life that we find ourselves in can be eradicated and become good ones. The tough part is being able to discern when you are in a bad habit. As I was evaluating my patterns, I had a decision to make in a particular situation. As I was thinking through a course of action, I had a sort of déjà vu moment, and it dawned on me that I had dealt with the same thing in the fall of every previous year, for about three or four years. Once this overtly bad habit occurred to me, I realized I had to break the cycle. So I asked myself how do I do that? I decided that instead of responding and doing the same thing I had done in recent years, that I should do the exact opposite of what I had done before.
Breaking that yearly habit and cycle, was no easy feat. Every part of my make up and routine was telling me to respond as I had so many times before. But the part of me that knew I needed a fresh start and a new way of doing things encouraged me to be different. When you know better, do better. It’s just that simple in theory, but I realize it’s not as easy in application.
- The first step is to discover what your bad habits may be.
- The second step is evaluating how you’ve handled or mishandled them in the past.
- The third step is to do everything you can to handle it differently than you have before.
I’m not a psychologist, but these three steps helped me to break a huge, debilitating cycle in my life and gave me a fresh start and a healthier cycle. I pray that these steps can help you too.
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