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How Long Does It Take to Form a New Habit?

Liston Witherill
Liston Witherill
2 min read

Two and a half years ago I had two separate anxiety attacks. It felt as if I’d lost control of everything; I was panicked. My breathing was shallow, I was dizzy, and utterly disoriented. I to make a change.

I resolved to get exercise at least every work day. Quitting smoking and starting an exercise routine are two of the most difficult habits to form, and I’ve done both. I also returned to school to get my undergrad and Master’s degrees seven years after dropping out. The odds were low that I’d succeed at any of these things. It wasn’t easy, but here’s what I learned:

Don’t take a day off.

That’s the simplest, most effective advice I can give you. There’s a large body of research on habit formation out there, and most conclude that it takes about 60 days to form a habit. Getting through that first 60 days is tough, but it’s doable.

And here’s the real rub: it’s much easier to quit a habit than to start one. Right Now Me wants to sit and watch TV. Right Now Me doesn’t get excited to write, to exercise, or to work on my business every day. But I enjoy doing these things once I start.

With each day that I show up to do them, it gets a little easier. But of course there are days when I just don’t wanna.

Here’s the big problem.

Right Now Me wants something totally different than Future Me. Right Now Me wants instant gratification (i.e. sit on the couch and watch TV). Future Me wants to profit from the accomplishments of Past Me. Future Me wants wealth, security, knowledge, and enriching relationships. And the only way to reconcile Right Now Me and Future Me is to favor the desires of Future Me.

One of the best tools available is forming habits. It’s an uphill battle to start the habit, but I keep the habit up by doing something every day.

Some days I just don’t perform well in the gym. Some days I don’t feel inspired to write. Some days I only get a few hours of productive work done. But I show up every day, even if it’s painful.

Jerry Seinfeld summed it up with the phrase “don’t break the chain.” To get good at something or make a dramatic improvement in my life, I have put in the time. To do that consistently I show up every day.

There’s just no other way to do it.

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