Habits are one of those things that we all know exist, but only a few understand how they work. And when only a few understand a subject, misinformation easily spreads. Sometimes, it’s done out of misinformation, other times because it sells better than the truth. But the result tends to be the same. When trying to form new habits, the chance of failure increases, and success is unlikely.
Let’s have a look at some common myths about habits, how they might impact your efforts and what you can do instead.
5 common myths about building habits
There are many myths surrounding habits and how they are formed. Some of them might be harmless, while others have the potential to hold you back in your habit-building efforts. Here are the 5 most common myths about habits.
Related: Everything you need to know about habits
Habit myth 1: A habit is formed in a specific number of days
You can find many different numbers when searching for how many days it takes to build a habit. And especially 21 days, from the 21/90 rule, seems to be the most common answer. It’s a number you might see often, but that doesn’t mean it’s true.
In 2009, a medical researcher conducted a study to test how long it takes to form a habit. They had 96 subjects who had to pick a simple habit that they wanted to form.
The study showed that it takes between 18-254 days and, on average, 66 days to form a new habit. 45 days more than the 21 days that are often mentioned. The time needed to make it stick depends on how often you do it, how easy it is, how much you enjoy it, how it fits into your lifestyle, and many other factors.
Be patient, and don’t get frustrated if it takes more than 21 days or 2 months to build a new habit. It takes time, and it’s impossible to tell exactly how much.
Habit myth 2: Concentrate on goals to successfully build habits
It’s a common myth that goals are essential to succeed with anything. Before you can begin to act, you need clearly defined SMART goals. But concentrating on your goals doesn’t (always) equal success. Neither when you’re trying to form a habit.
A goal is often focused on a result. Get in shape, get that promotion, or start that business. The goal is tied to a big event that usually only happens once, with either success or failure. It sets a direction for where you want to go but not how to get there.
When you set a goal, you start off with great intensity. You want to achieve it as fast as possible. You work hard, and as you get closer to the date, you thought would be the end date, you realize that you have made progress but are still nowhere near what you expected. You might get discouraged and feel like you failed, at this point. This is where most people fall off when trying to reach their goals and build better habits.
Instead of focusing on goals to build the right habits to get there, you have to do the opposite. You have to concentrate on building the right habits to reach your goals.
Related: How to find the right habits for your goals
Habit myth 3: Missing a day can destroy your progress
You form a habit when you repeat a behavior enough times. Some people have misunderstood this and believe that you need to repeat the behavior enough times in a row to form the habit.
If you believe missing a day will destroy your progress, it’s most likely the result you get when you miss a day. But it’s not the day off that sets you back. It’s the belief that it had a negative impact that did.
It’s completely normal to miss days when you try to build better habits. We all do that. If you accept that it happened, look at why you missed it, and get back to your new behavior the next day, it won’t hurt your long-term progress.
Habit myth 4: Big results need big changes
We tend to simplify big achievements. We look at everything they did to get there and believe that they did all those things from the beginning. But that’s rarely the truth.
Let’s say that a person lost 40 pounds. He counts his calories, daily walks, hits the gym 5 times a week, gets enough sleep, and takes all the right supplements. Now it might seem that he did all those things to lose weight. And sure, they all had an impact, but often, it’s just one of those habits that were the real reason for his weight loss. That habit is called a keystone habit.
Keystone habits are habits that cause ripples throughout your life and form other habits in their wake. Maybe the guy in the example above started hitting the gym. Soon he began to sleep more, and the diet followed, all because of him going to the gym first.
You don’t need to make big changes to see results. Start with something small but positive and build upon that. Slowly, you’ll see your big results.
Habit myth 5: Willpower is enough
One of the most common myths about habits is that if you want it enough, you’ll succeed. Those who believe this believe that when they eventually miss a day, it’s because they don’t want it enough. Or maybe they believe that it’s because they just aren’t capable of doing it. But no matter who you are and what dreams you have, willpower will never be enough to have long-term success.
Think of willpower as a muscle. It gets depleted every time you use it and is weaker the next time you need it. You might have noticed that you find it harder to resist temptation at the end of the day, especially if it was stressful. Or maybe, when someone asks for something enough times, you might not be able to resist and you eventually give in.
To avoid relying purely on willpower, you must design your environment to make the right choice easier. You might have to avoid certain people, rearrange your interior decoration or turn your phone off. When you remove the option for bad choices, you won’t have to rely on willpower anymore, and you can begin to build better habits and a better life.
There are many myths about habits. Some are harmless, while others might destroy your progress.
The 5 most common myths about habits are:
- A habit is formed in a specific number of days.
- Concentrate on goals to successfully build habits.
- Missing a day can destroy your progress.
- Big results need big changes.
- Willpower is enough
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