Forming a health habit: How long before it becomes automatic
By Natasha Jaramillo
Ever wonder how long it will take before you jump up in the morning and perform 50 sit-ups automatically without groaning? Or why there is a slight resistance in your body before exercising every single time you start your routine?
All important healthy habits are essential to maintaining a healthy body and mind and to be ready for those exciting finals. Maintaining a healthy weight, eating a balanced diet that is equal to our daily caloric needs (based on average height and weight for a particular gender), exercising at least 30 minutes a day, and remaining in control of our daily stressors by mediating or praying are behaviors we must persistently work at to make them automatic habits in our daily lifestyle.
Do not worry: There is substantial variation in the range it takes for an individual to form habits.
University of London researchers Phillippa Lally, Cornelia H.M. Van Jarrsveld, Henry W.W. Potts, and Jane Wardle investigated the process of habit formation in everyday life and explain that automaticity follows an asymptomatic curve that can be modeled at the individual level.
The range to form a healthy habit for individuals is 18 to 254 days, with a median of 66 days.
Automaticity is evidenced by the behavior displaying some or all of the following features: efficiency, lack of awareness, unintentionality and uncontrollability.
Getting up and exercising without first contemplating those extra minutes of sleep is the essence of automaticity for the human mind.
Repeating a behavior in response to a cue is enough for many people to develop automaticity for that behavior.
The research shows that habits are acquired through incremental strengthening of the association between a situation and an action, and repetition of a behavior in a consistent context progressively increases the automaticity with which the behavior is performed when situation is encountered.
Take the goal you have of a healthy habit – drinking more water, eliminating candy bars, inserting fruits in your diet, exercising more each week – and pair it with a cue you enjoy – friends calling you up to exercise, drinking water after each commercial break, an alarm in the morning that says you are a beautiful person – and you will have a better chance of making that healthy change in your life a permanent habit.