I’ve been thinking about something that might help, to let your script know why doing what WE’RE doing is far better than the current, populist way of acquiring a new habit: the 30 day plan. Out of sheer artistic laziness I’m going to call this the ‘do-it-for-30-days-and-it-becomes-a-habit‘ plan.
This is a very noble idea and there’s nothing in principle wrong with this approach.
Except that, for most people, it doesn’t work.
Because it requires too much willpower.
But the most insidious thing is… it doesn’t SEEM like it’s going to require too much willpower. So, when we fail to stick to it, we’ve just created a golden opportunity for the script to give us a real beating.
Let me explain…
We’ve all done it. We’ve all got excited at the prospect of doing something every day for 30 days and acquiring a new, life-changing habit. We want to get that book written, so we hatch a plan to do nothing more than write 1000 words per day and we can have a book completed in a month. We are finally a little bit concerned about our lack of exercise, so we decide to go for a walk every day to improve our fitness. We want to learn a new language so we decide to do 20 minutes of podcast french lessons every day.
These plans are all fine and very noble. But what happens?
1. We get to Day 13 and due to circumstances beyond our control, we end up missing a day. We then wake up on Day 14 and think: ‘Bllcks! I’ve missed a day. I’ve got to reset the counter. Back to Day One. Damn. I’m never going to do this…’ That little voice in your head starts popping up really useful thoughts like: ‘Right, here we go. Another thing you’ve tried and failed at.’ ‘Uh-oh. Just what I expected pal. You can’t do this. You’re just not able to stick at anything.’ ‘Never mind. It wasn’t that important anyway. You didn’t really want to be good at the trumpet. Otherwise you’d have stuck at it right? Maybe you should try mandolin?’
2. Or after skipping a day, you carry on regardless, reasoning that it can’t really be THAT important to do itevery single day after all, it’s the habit we’re interesting in acquiring, the satisfaction of completing the 30-day challenge is secondary.
Unfortunately this subtly erodes the value of the plan. After a while, the challenge itself no longer has the same allure and you’ve got very little reason to make sure you don’t skip another day, since as far as your sub-conscious mind is concerned, you’ve already ‘failed’ anyway.
3. You complete the new series of activities every day for 30 days at some cost, sure, but you do it. You get it done. Now what?
Is it really, totally ingrained in your psyche, your daily routine, your modus operandum? Will you now continue to do this new thing every single day without any further willpower, or does it need constant maintenance? Look, let’s be straight here. The 30-day challenge is good. I’m not knocking it. It does work. Some people use it very successfully. But for most of us it fails because of just one thing: It’s just not reasonable. So, in summary, Tom, for how many days do you have to keep doing something in order for it to truly become a habit? Until you stop doing it.