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The 3-Step Method Guaranteed to Help You Make New Habits Stick

Why are highly accomplished people successful? It’s because they’ve managed to consistently perform behaviours that breed success.

If you think about it, everything from eating well to responsible time delegation is based on making success part of our daily life. It's no wonder we set ourselves a list of resolutions at the beginning of each year, but then somehow end up giving up a few months - or even weeks - down the track.

Sure, there's the concept that a habit takes 21 days to stick; but if this was the case then we'd all be ticking off those resolutions in less than a month, right?

It goes without saying the 21-day approach is a myth, or more accurately, a misinterpretation. So, how do you exactly form a new habit for the long-term? By following the 3-step method. Here we reveal exactly what that is and how to use it to your best advantage so you can set yourself up for consistent success.

Why the ’21-day rule’ is a myth

While the ’21-day rule’ to set a new habit is a simple rule to cling to, it turns out it’s based on a complete misinterpretation.

The story goes that plastic surgeon Maxwell Maltz found it took his patients about 21 days to adapt to a new change in their body. Thus, he wrote in his popular book about behaviour Psycho-Cybernetics, it took a minimum of 21 days to get used to a new situation. This gained popularity and became the ’21-day rule’ you may have heard going around today.

How long does it really take to form a new habit?

While we wish it was as simple as this, a 2009 study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, found it takes 18 to 254 days for a person to form a new habit, The study also concluded that on average, it takes closer to 66 days for a new behaviour to become automatic. However, it’s crucial to take into consideration a variety of factors including your personality or how big or small the habit is. For example, switching to decaf coffee might be a quicker habit to pick up compared to running three times a week.

Instead of focusing on how long it takes to build a habit, sought-after business coach Tom Bartow, suggests it’s a better idea to focus on a 3-step approach.

Why the 3-step method works

While we’d all love for new habits to magically set in within a certain time, unfortunately it isn’t practical. Your self-worth might deplete if you fail to achieve a goal within a set timeframe.

The 3-step method is a more realistic approach to adopting a new habit because it recognises that disruptions and setbacks are all part of the process. These three phases will take different lengths of time for different people, and that’s OK, too.

When forming habits, it’s important they’re realistic and you start small. Think of it this way: aiming to run three times a week when you’ve never run before is bound to fail, while aiming to run once a week sets you up for success.

The 3-step method to changing a habit

1. The honeymoon phase

Like any new relationship, you and your new habit will also go through a honeymoon period where you get caught thinking “this is easy” and “why didn’t I always do this?”.

This phase is only transient and is often triggered by something like reading an inspirational book, or setting New Year’s resolutions.

2. The fight-through phase

Quickly, reality sets in and you’ll be tempted to go back to your old ways. The fight-through stage is about achieving a few ‘wins’ two to three times, such as ‘fighting through’ the snooze button in the mornings to get to the gym. Experts recommend a few techniques to ‘fight through’:

  • Make it a ritual: This might mean scheduling exercise into your calendar like a meeting, or setting a water jug at your desk each day to make sure you drink water. Whatever it is, you’ve got to set up your environment to make it as easy as possible to succeed.
  • Ask two questions: “How will I feel if I do this?” and “how will I feel if I don’t do this?”.
  • Recognise: Verbalise to yourself that you are in the fight through phase and that you need a few wins. This self-talk can help you see the bigger picture.

3. Second nature

After a couple wins, this phase is where you feel ‘in the groove’, however it’s not uncommon to experience disruptions that push you back into the second phase. This can be due to things like holidays, stress or negative thinking that creeps in.

But don’t worry if this occurs; you just need two or three more wins in the fight-through phase to get back to second nature.

Want to adopt healthy sleeping habits? Just take advice from 8 of Australia's most successful women.

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