How to Acquire a New Habit

When a friend of mine first read Stephen Covey’s bestseller, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, I remember him commenting that the book was incomplete because Covey did not explain how to go about forming a new habit. I remember thinking that was something that I did cover in my own book and something I also teach in my personal development workshops.

In principle, it’s a simple process. Yes, it does require work and it does require some degree of genuine commitment. But quite simply, if you decide to stay with something for a period of around thirty days, doing whatever it is that you want to become a behavioural habit, then after that period, you won’t need to think about it; the behaviour will become part of you – a habit.

Very often, when people embark on the process of acquiring a new habit, the problem is remembering to perform the action regularly i.e. the behaviour to you are trying to acquire. One of the things I often suggest is to put reminders around you. Such reminders can be very unobtrusive. For example, you could simply write a little note on the top of each page of your diary, every day for thirty days, in advance. You simply need to commit to performing the desired behaviour when you see the reminder and, of course, you will see that reminder every day you use your diary.

Now recently, I have come across this same idea on another site and I liked the way the blogger spoke about the idea. He called it the 30 day trial and said he got the idea from the 30 day trial period often associated with shareware programs. He also put a slightly different spin on the process which I would like to share. His idea was to try something for 30 days; to just commit to the change for that period only. After the 30 days, you could make the decision whether or not you wished to extend the trial period or terminate it.

Personally, I think this is an excellent idea because it is often difficult for people to commit to permanent change, but if the commitment were for a period of just 30 days, then it makes the goal far more realistic and achievable; far more SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timetabled), if you prefer. Just think about the process of giving-up something; for example, smoking. It seems like a very big commitment and it is for that reason that some people don’t begin because they don’t feel that they could keep the commitment permanently.

If, on the other hand, they were just giving-up for a trial period of 30 days, they could probably accept that with a bit of willpower, they could probably do it. Now that is what makes the idea interesting because, once the 30 day period is over, you are under no obligation to continue with the new behaviour. You are indeed free – that’s a part of the bargain you have struck with yourself – to go back to your old ways.

But the thing is that you will have reached the point where you are beginning to form a new habit and so, there is a strong possibility that you will be able to actually make that change permanent. Now you may be thinking that there is not much difference between these two ideas: a) do it for 30 days and you will form a new habit, and b) try it for 30 days and then go back if you wish. But, I believe there is quite a difference.

When we set a goal and then subsequently achieve it, as Stephen Covey says, it is like putting a deposit in our personal integrity account; just as setting a goal and failing to achieve it is like making a withdrawal. In order words, we feel better about ourselves when we achieve goals; and we feel worse about ourselves when we fail. If you set a goal to give-up smoking or eat more healthily or exercise every day, for example, you fail when the desired behaviour is abandoned. If, on the other hand, you only commit to the new behaviour for 30 days, you succeed whether you decide to go back to the old behaviour or not. Psychologically, there is a big difference.

If at the end of the 30 day period you decide the new behaviour is not for you, then that’s still success; it’s ok; it’s what you set out to achieve. You wanted to try something out to see how you felt about making a permanent change. If you decide to keep the new behaviour, that’s ok too. Either way is success. That’s what makes this such an interesting approach.

At present, I am working on two 30 day trials concurrently:

  • Write 1,000 words per day for my Blog
  • Stay out of my favourite Internet Marketing Forum

One of these is giving something up, the other involves acquiring a new behaviour. At the end of my 30 day period, I will assess my results and then decide whether or not those two new behaviours are things I wish to keep, whether I wish to extend the test period or whether I wish to give them up. All of these outcomes, I acknowledge, as genuine possibilities and I just don’t know what my decision will be in advance. That’s all part of the fun of this approach.

So I hope this post has inspired you to think about some of the things you would like to change in your life. Perhaps they are things you have tried to change before and failed. Well, why not join me in a 30 day trial? Decide that you will do something (or not so something) for just 30 days. Does that sound doable for you? I’m sure it does, no matter what behaviour you may be thinking about. After the 30 days, you can make a fresh decision. But whatever that decision is, you will have succeeded in your test, you will have tried something out and you will have some results upon which to base that new decision.

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