A while ago I read something that absolutely blew my mind! It actually made me step back and rethink some of the things I’ve been taught.
Exactly how long does it take to create a habit?
But wait … what if that’s the WRONG QUESTION?
What if instead, we ask: how many “repetitions” of an action do you have to do before it becomes a habit?
This is SO POWERFUL because it is more action-oriented. It takes you out of the “passive” mode of waiting for time to pass … to being in charge of the process.
After all, it’s the ACTION that helps rewire your brain for success. Studies have shown that your brain can physically change in just a couple of months (and maybe even a few weeks) when you learn new things or create new habits.
Years ago, scientists believed that the brain was static – once you reached a certain age, there was no way to change it.
Well, that’s been tossed out the window, as researchers have found that adults have been able to physically change their brains based on their actions.
For example, taxi drivers who have to navigate city streets have changed the area of their brain that involves spatial awareness.
Pretty amazing, right? And if it works for navigation, it definitely can work for creating healthy habits and a positive mindset!
There’s a specific process called REACH to help “rewire” your brain (aka create new neural pathways in your brain).
Here’s the process:
- Repetition. The more reps of an activity you do, the more likely rewiring will occur.
- Effort. You have to put in some work (and enthusiasm!) to make rewiring happen. Just going through the motions doesn’t count. 🙂
- Attention. Being “in the moment” as you’re doing the activity – paying attention to all that’s required – also helps the rewiring process.
- Complex Activities. The more involved/challenging your habit/activity, the more your brain will rewire (i.e., learning to speak a new language requires more rewiring than drinking a glass of water first thing in the morning).
- Health. The healthier your body and brain are, the more ready your brain is for change. So, lay the groundwork for change by getting exercise and sleep, and eating a healthy diet.
One new habit I have been recently working on is running more often. Since the beginning of March when the world was flipped upside down I decided I wanted to get outside and go for some runs. To be honest with you I wanted to run for my mental health rather than my physical health (Although I like those benefits too!)
So how did I apply the REACH method?
Repetitions: Over time I would increase the number of runs I went on during the month, its started with just a few then turned into a few a week. In the beginning, I was not focused on how long my runs were but instead tried to do it consistently so it became part of my exercise routine.
Effort: As I started running more and more it became easier. I continued to challenge myself to increase the distance of my runs. Some days sucked and I wanted to quit but I tried to dig deep and challenge myself. It got to the point where I had a friendly competition with my friends in order to continue to challenge myself.
Attention: Most clients who work with me don’t believe me when I say I am an extremely introverted person. I think part of the reason I have started to like running so much is it allows me to be alone and simply focus on what I am doing. I really enjoy finding a quiet scenic place to run, place my headphones in, and just focus on the moment. Now I wasn’t thinking each stride left foot, right foot but I was focused on my body and what I was doing at that exact time.
Complex Activities: Now some people might say that running is not a “complex activity” and others might think it is, the way I made my runs complex was by increasing my distance and trying to step out of my comfort zone.
Health: Obviously any type of exercise is beneficial for your health but there were other aspects of my health I was focusing on in order to make running a habit. The three biggest things I paid attention too was my nutrition, making sure I was eating enough and eating plenty of protein and vegetables to fuel my body. I was making sure I got 7-8 hours of quality sleep each night to allow my body to recover. Last, I would make sure I started each run with a warm-up so that my body was prepared for what’s ahead.
There aren’t any hard and fast rules about how long this process takes – but the easier a habit is (like drinking a glass of water when you wake-up), the fewer reps required. And the more challenging a habit is (planning your meals ahead of time), the more reps it might take.
It is important to remember that this process can work with any habit. It does not have to revolve around fitness and nutrition. You can take the same concept and apply it to something as small as brushing your teeth or and complex and creating new habits at work so you get that promotion you have been dreaming about for years.
Personally, I find this idea of repetition so much more empowering than waiting around for a habit to “stick.”
Being intentional about getting those reps in puts you closer and closer to making that activity part of your lifestyle.
If you need help carving out goals or healthy habits, gain control of this one area of your life you may have been struggling with for years, we are here to help!
Make it an amazing day!