21 Days To Make A Habit? Try 66
A few weeks ago, it was about 8 minutes into the cardio portion of my workout when I realized just how powerful a negative mind really is.
I saw the seconds passing on the clock, but my mind kept thinking of reasons to quit. You can stop 5 minutes early and get more stuff done at home. Then I started doing that thing you do during a long day at work, just a few more minutes and I’m ⅓ of the way there. I started planning how I can make up for cutting my cardio time short by telling myself I could just do a little extra tomorrow. My mind went through a wave of negative thoughts. It tried really hard to overcome my motivation.
It’s commonly said it takes 21 days to make a habit. This idea came from a general observation many years ago that ended up becoming a standard belief. However, a study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, says that it actually takes a lot longer than this to form a habit - between 18 and 254 days.
On average it takes 66 days for a new habit to become automatic behavior.
To me, this was wonderful news! I have tried to follow those workout DVD programs that promise a better body in as little as 3 weeks, countless times. You know, the ones where they just yell motivation at you for a half hour - and for me it just wasn’t cutting it. When I didn’t follow through with the programs, I felt like a failure and would give up. This became a repetitive cycle.
I see many fitness trainers take what I would call, an aggressive and one-size-fits-all attitude, which doesn’t always work when it comes to fitness and lifestyle. Some neglect to focus on the importance of nutrition, instead just putting together the most basic meal plan with limited options and no explanations. This hurts me when there are SO many nutritional foods available that are being ignored for simplicity sake - not to mention, IT’S BORING. Emphasis also needs to be put on breaking bad habits and changing negative thought patterns, because people like me who have severe self-confidence hurdles to jump every day need that extra care.
I’m hoping that I can provide all that for others. You can only read so many of the same motivational gym quotes and affirmations, but when it all falls on you to commit, and simple workout videos just aren't doing it, you need that extra care and attention to coach you through it all. Everyone has a different lifestyle, some may require more adjustments than others. Everyone will have different experiences, personal roadblocks, and I want to be able to help people move past them. And the one thing I won’t ever promise is a quick fix. Because self improvement takes time, dedication, and sometimes failure, before you can get to where you want to be.
So back to minute 8 on the elliptical.
I started thinking about time. We spend our time counting down our time, when we’re doing things we don’t enjoy (like work or cardio). Yet we all know that time flies when we're having fun. On our mornings off, sipping coffee and reading a book...suddenly you look up and an hour has gone by. But when we have that same cup of coffee sitting at our desk at work, that hour feels like 10 and secretly you keep checking the time thinking “I can’t believe I haven’t even been here an hour yet!”
This is when I started becoming conscious of the fact that my mind was LITERALLY fighting my motivation, over 20 damn minutes. 20 minutes in a stationary location where, yeah I may be doing cardio, but I can watch a show, listen to some good music, or read something. Then I started thinking, if I was at home what would I be doing that would only take 20 minutes? I could do literally nothing, screw around on my phone maybe, and that 20 minutes would fly by. But I was so focused on not wanting to do it that I actually thought about turning that 20 minutes into 15 instead. As if that 5 extra minutes would really make a difference to my evening routine. But you know what, the 5 extra minutes WILL make a difference if I just keep going.
I looked back on all the times I skipped a full workout or cut one super short because my powerful negative mind somehow convinced myself it would be fine. Right now my routine takes about an hour of my day. 1 hour. I started thinking about all the things that I would be doing in 1 hour if I had just gone home instead.
Here's a list of things that I would be doing with my 1 hour of not being at the gym:
Taking a shower (I take long, hot, scalding showers because they remind me of my home, hell)
Making and eating dinner (but then I’d be hungry before bed because I ate too early, making me more prone to late night snacking)
Painting and repainting my nails 4 times before settling on a color because I have commitment issues.
Watching 1 episode of a TV show, which would surely turn into more.
Watching 2 episodes from a YouTube channel, which would lead to the YouTube black hole that I sometimes spend hours in.
Watching most of a movie, but then also watching the rest of it, so I'd be sedentary for even longer.
Going to the grocery store which will only upset me because it’s during rush hour after work, so the crowds will give me rage anxiety.
Listening to a really good CD, or like, 6 house music songs.
Scrolling through Instagram and Facebook, and reading comments on controversial posts, and getting worked up, and hating everyone.
Sounds ridiculous, right? I pretty much wouldn’t be doing anything productive with that extra hour of not working out (also, thanks for not noticing I don't have a social life). But most importantly, I wouldn’t be improving my health, body, and self-confidence. So eventually after all the thinking I did on the elliptical that day, fighting my own mind, my 20 minutes were up. I made it through and came out knowing that I had to change my mindset.
Fast forward to now.
I have been sticking to it and I am starting to notice improvements in my body. Seeing and feeling these small improvements, that maybe no one else even notices, is the best motivation of all. I had made some changes to the way I approached cardio and my thoughts about it. Here's some ideas if you struggle with the same issue:
Tips to Get Through Cardio:
Create a high tempo playlist of songs that put you in a good mood and make you want to sing and dance. This energy should pump you through with ease.
Queue up one of your favorite podcasts (my favorite is Wine & Crime). Episodes can be long so you may want to keep listening and do cardio longer than planned.
Pull up some recipes or funny videos that you want to watch on YouTube. A lot of the channels I subscribe to have videos ranging 20-30 minutes. If you were going to watch them sitting at home anyways, why not watch at the gym and distract your mind?
During slower periods, you could check email or social media. This usually distracts me for a few minutes, however I don't like doing this much. I want working out to be my break away from the noise of the world.
Pull up an article or digital book to read. This may be more difficult if you're running the whole time, but on slower days or on a stationary bike it's not so hard and can keep you from counting down the time.
It is up to us to find out what works and will motivate us through the things we like and don't like, but are necessary to see the results we want. Working out releases endorphins and endorphins make you feel happy. But overcoming your own mind and achieving the goal you set for yourself, no matter how small? That's almost an unbeatable high.