How long does it take to establish a new habit?

I feel like I've created a lot of new 'habits', perhaps they're just routines, perhaps they're in-progress good intentions that are still in the early stage of becoming 'habits'. Whatever they are, sometimes it weighs on me. I have moments where it all seems like too much, there's a temptation to just stop bothering with it all, and then it seems like all my efforts so far might go to waste. On this forum there's been mention that 12 weeks is a good period of time for a habit to become fully formed, but I'm not sure this is really the case, or at least it doesn't seem to be for me, it all feels very much work-in-progress here still. I'm not so much a 'creature of habit' as someone who knows their faults and feels they need to work hard to continuously counteract them.

I'm going to list my new habits below, in a general sort of sense, hopefully this seems clear. Does this seem like a standard set of habits, does this echo others' habits following the weight-loss/maintaining process? And does it seem reasonable that I should expect myself to become more habituated as time goes on? I'm currently aiming to become more habituated, but I do get this feeling every now and then that it's 'too much to do'. Are these just normal bumps in the road, that will eventually get evened out, as long as I stick at them for long enough?

I've scored my habits as follows:

(1) Easy: absolutely set in stone and I'll always keep doing this.

(2) Moderate: This is an established habit but it needs to be consciously maintained.

(3) Difficult: This is still a new habit. It's hard work keeping it going.

My main new habits from easy to difficult:

Go out every day. Even if working from home, try to go for a walk somewhere (1)

Cycle as much as is practical (instead of tube/bus) (1)

Avoid foods with added sugar (1)

Run no less than 3 times a week (2)

Approach every day confident that it will go well (2)

Always stick to reasonable portion sizes (2)

Have 3 healthy meals a day, supplemented by 2-3 snacks as necessary (2)

Low average weekly alcohol, approx 6 units (2)

Daily strength exercises (3)

Don't turn to alcohol on a stressful day (3)

49 Replies

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  • Hi Ruth,

    It's hard to know where to start here, because I'm trying to think of comparable "habits".

    I suspect it depends a lot on our internal needs/wants, eg it would never occur to me to turn to alcohol in times of crisis, but alcohol is not one of my "go to" vices. However, running no less than twice a week, fills me with horror and would be a number 10 on my list, never mind a 2 :)

    As parents, we try to instil in our children good habits, like washing and brushing their teeth, but look at how many years it takes before they actually take up those habits naturally and when they no longer become a chore.

    You already have more 1's on your list than 3's, which I suspect that a few months ago would have seemed totally unachievable, but are now easy peasy :)

    If everything in life was easy, wouldn't we become bored? Wouldn't we miss the sense of pride when we overcome obstacles? Would we really want everything we do to be as mundane as brushing our teeth?

    Life and living is all about new experiences and new goals. Do you think people like Edmund Hillary had easy lives, with no challenges, or do you think they relished those challenges and ran with them? :)

    Seize your challenges and run with them Ruth, for without them you'd lack the empathy to be the warm and caring person that you are.

  • So... after reading your amazing reply, of course I looked up Edmund Hillary. Climbing mountains is an amazing metaphor, thanks, wow imagine being the first people to climb Everest! Also, it occurs to me I must have lots of other 3s, 4s, 5s, 10s etc that I didn't mention here. For example swimming, or in fact wearing anything as revealing as a swimming costume would probably be a 10 for me, but I didn't include it, I imagine this is because I don't intend to even try it! So maybe I should clarify that these are the habits I reckon I need to adopt to maintain my new healthy weight and lifestyle? Other habits are valid of course according to our different sets of circumstances! Also, I realise my list is skewed because of my tendency to turn to wine etc, but I think this is maybe comparable to other cravings/trigger foods

  • I think it's all about everything in modification, if you start to obsess about things, they become huge elephants in the room and make it very difficult to enjoy life.

    Is there any point denying the feeling of elation after having been for a run, by worrying about the fact you might not do another.

    Alcohol, specifically wine, seems to be your biggest elephant and I still wonder if a glass a couple of times a week is reward enough for the angst caused by the thought of that surreptitiously increasing, until you're drinking a bottle, or three, a day.

    Don't forget, that you've set your own "rules" and are now beating yourself up because it's not always easy to stick to them. I agree, that a couple of your rules are essential if you wish to maintain a healthy lifestyle, but I think others could be missed out, or modified in order to achieve the same results. Try not to be too inward looking and hear what other people are saying, in order to give yourself some balance.

    You've been so strict with yourself, for so long, there has to be a time when you stand back and say, "Wow, look what I've achieved! and actually enjoy it, without feeling that you're just going to completely give up on all the things that got you here :)

    Savour every minute of your happy, healthy life.

  • Thank you moreless, I think what you're saying is generosity needs to be part of the habit-forming, not to let these things become rules, something where there's give and take? I'm definitely not beating myself up though. But the facts are I do just drink a whole bottle of wine when presented with one, so does that maybe need to be something I just accept, if I'm otherwise maintaining a healthy diet, exercise routine etc?

  • This feels very inward, do you have habits you would be similarly generous to yourself about?

  • Hi, sorry about the delay. I tried to reply to your last message, but got frozen out.

    Exactly, be kind to yourself :)

    If drinking a bottle of wine doesn't become too frequent and doesn't cause you to end up in hospital, then enjoy it :)

    It's about quiet accountability, not anal retention (and now I'm back to the random toilet jokes :) )

    I think generosity to myself, would come in the form of allowing myself the occasional sweet treat, if by the time I reach my goal weight, I have beaten my addictive nature and am able to eat a little without it turning into a food orgy! :)

  • Well I guess that depends on if we have addictive personalities..............I don't, you see I think you need to ask yourself, where did the these bad habits come from?

    Maybe they just happened, I'm convinced a lot of my sugar / over eating happened , a few months into my constant flu like menopause, I was zombie like, up to 30 or more flushes a day, that consumed almost 2 years, I felt almost invisible at times.

    Yes I had some extreme Chinese medicine that helped.

    My turning point was pls Ning a 50 th birthday party, and realised I didn't want to be the fat one.

    Yes I've had setbacks, of course, and has taken a few years to get the habits firmly established!

    Be kind to yourself, the longer you do stuff the easier it gets.

  • I think habits may have psychological causes, maybe hormonal as you say, maybe I just don't know how they're caused. But I'm interested in how to properly embed new habits and how long it takes... at least so I can be realistic :)

  • Hormones ah, strange things they do so much, as I learnt from accupunturists, and Chinese medicine.

    Ginger is a great painkiller, and helps with bloating if you can take it.

    I think and believe our 'comfort', childhood memory foods we attach a lot to, sometimes the memory and not the food.

    We are complex creatures, re visit those food 'demon' it certainly helped me!

  • Ooh, thanks for the tip about ginger, I've been suffering with terrible bloating. Definitely something I'm going to try.

  • Best minced , or finely grated, use 1 heaped teaspoon to boiling water in a cup , strain ( I use a tea strainer) into another cup, drink as hot as you can.

    It's great for period pain/ cramps if that applies?

  • It's not that kind of bloating. I think it's due to a slow digestive system. Will ginger help that too?

  • I expect so, who knows, I get hormal bloating at times, and used molkosan vitality, a health food shop, probiotic syrup, about Β£7 and lasts up to. 2 months, just checked made by avogel

  • Worked wonders too

  • Thanks, I'll definitely look into it.

  • Try fennel tea. It tastes rubbish, but works 😐

  • Definitely things get easier with time. For example, one of my new things for the year was to have a dedicated morning and evening skincare routine. I used to forget about it all the time or find it too much of a chore sometimes. For months. Now I very rarely forget to do it, and if I do, it feels super weird. But I also tried to get into the habit of not snoozing in the morning. And I just CAN'T DO IT. So it's not just health, exercise and weight loss. It's normal for some "habits" to become a part of you and for others to always be a bit of a chore. The fact you are aware and trying is amazing. And hopefully for many of them you won't have to always "try".

  • I was trying to think of these other sorts of habits too, thanks for reminding me. One of the things that happened from becoming someone who runs regularly, sorry if this sounds gross, is I now have a bath every other day. I live in quite a basic flat with just a bath and no shower and baths aren't necessarily the most convenient way of washing. But since developing a routine of running, then running a bath and doing stretches etc while it runs, I've definitely massively improved my hygiene routine. Having 3+ baths a week has def become a (1) habit, along with regular face/feet/hair-washing, def not to be underrated.

    But re a.m. snooze/wake-up routines, I'm yet to get up before 7.30 a.m. apart from weird insomnia moments, despite lots of good intentions to become an early morning runner. Maybe, yes, these sorts of habits are unchangeable :)

  • I think they just become part of our new normal, we ditch the old ones too!

  • We can't all have only good habits, where is the fun in that? It's about for me doing more of what I like and don't mind so I really don't mind how many excersise classes I do, so when I go to spin twice a week at 6.45am and insanity on weds at 6.30am that allows for my weekend alcohol intake.

    I lost weight before and would always regain some not quite all, once I stopped weighing. so this time I have never stopped weighing nearly every weekday.

    The other thing I would go on holiday and that would be it knew I put on weight and wouldn't bother. For the last 2 years I come back 1/2 stone or so heavier but just get back on the case it's a case for me of MANAGING myself.

    The older you get the harder it is to lose and maintain your weight, so keep your eye on the ball and you will do great Ruth, I have no doubt!

  • Okay cool, so good habits can be used to manage bad habits... Lots of running and cycling needs to happen then...

  • Love this post...full of interesting conversations. I looked at your list and grieved over the amount of rain and work I'm doing at the moment...my lovely walks in the sunshine are just not happening and twelve hour days make me want to just pop on pjs and settle in for the night.....so you've reminded me to get on with the best of my healthy habits....to walk everyday. I too have cut out sugar dramatically. Drink is down to a couple of drinks a week.....

    The food and drink behaviours are so easy compared to getting out and about after long working days ...and into the rain. I'm going to reaffirm my need to just do it! ....rain or shine...I'm out tomorrow!....thanks again for the post.

  • Okay, I tend to think going out for a walk is easy, the rest is hard. Goes to show we're all different! Hope you had a good eve 😊

  • Hi Ruth...yep it is easy...so I must just get over the weather and enjoy it .....I've always walked so the habit bit that I've got to commit to is walking whatever the epweather...as always a very contemplative post...thanks again

  • Aw PP - the rain is being miserable at the moment isn't it. I went out twice yesterday with the dog and got soaked both times :-( You've just got to get that raincoat on and get out there !! The work sounds pretty full on at the moment as well - hope it improves for you :-)

  • Hi Ruth you have really given this some thought and now you are at a time where you are maintaining on your journey some habits which have been included do seem a little harder than others to stick with at times, but through reading your great and insightful post I can see that you are concious of everything and that's a good thing to hold onto.

    I agree that some things are not as easy as others, however I like to take each day as it comes. I go into each day with a positive outlook and when I see myself first thing I am rewarded by what I see in the mirror and start my day off with that and think 'yes I did that' then it's followed by a usual routine of exercise where I tell myself what my next goal is and that I can do this, I am doing this. I've been doing this now for 39 weeks and have given myself one year to take control and at week 39 I can definitely say I feel in control.

    One thing I have definitely taken from this journey is how it's tout me to overcome stressful situations and focus the mind on a positive and not a negative. How something might effect me, but not to let it have an affect and lead to consequential behaviours such as drinking alcohol which was my crutch before all this began. I would make any excuse. I have definitely learned how to deal with emotions and stress and avoid certain triggers and that has taken time to build, but has now somehow ingrained it's self.

    The mind is a very powerful thing and we can control it or it can control us. I chose to control it every single day now and the longer I am in control the stronger I become both mentally and physically and do anything I put my mind to.

    When I look at your list I see all 1's apart from the daily strength exercise which I would put down as a 2. Your journey has not ended Ruth, remember the changes you have already put in place are changes for life and we should wake up everyday remembering where we came from and what we have achieved. I look forward to a life of maintaining, but haven't reached that point yet and when I do I want all the changes I have made along the way to stick and just be grateful that I found something within me that gave me my life back.

    We will all have bumps in the road, but it's how we deal with them that shows us how strong we truly are.

    You are a very inspiring individual Ruth and I am happy you have wrote this post as it goes to show that even when we reach our goals the road is still long.....it's as though the journey really begins here....

    Trafford1 x

  • Thanks Trafford1, really glad my list of habits made sense to you. 39 weeks is long, the only habits I've been doing that long are the running and cycling, so maybe I need to give myself another 6 months for the rest. I guess the 18 or so weeks since I started the 12 week plan have been packed with changes. Maybe habit forming is slow when so many new habits are formed at the same time. I think your positive attitude is very admirable, that's definitely key to staying strong and focused. It's linked to being in control too, as a negative attitude means thinking things are not in your control, rather than taking responsibility and taking control yourself. Lots of food for thought 😊

  • Hi Ruth

    What's missing is the 'enabler', the emotion that makes or breaks you and also your self-respect to continue with your habits and discipline. I have more self respect than I did three weeks ago but yet I still had vino and couple of whiskys last night cos my emotions are in control right now. I can see you are fully in charge of your emotions and focused on your journey. But sometimes I think you doubt your ability to succeed.

    Lizzy

  • I also lost the battle against the wine last night, its been a while coming, but after reading Trafford1's post I regret this, not for giving in to it, but more because I lost sight of all the positive stuff going on. I had another disappointing experience with the seemingly never-ending job hunt, and overfocused on that. Maybe we need to focus on the positive reasons that 'enable' us to maintain each habit, and see how strong they are compared to the reasons not to do them, and work on strengthening those reasons rather than on the habit itself.

  • I have an odd way of stopping a desire for something turning into consumption. I visualise all the people on this site standing in my kitchen shouting out the reasons why I shouldn't. It's surprising how it works :)

    Maybe a way to develop a new habit, is treat yourself to a glass of wine when you feel good, instead of when you feel down. If nothing else, it would be a great carrot to lift your mood :)

    I'm so sorry about the job hunt, I understand how difficult it is to see the positives, when something as fundamental as earning a crust, is so elusive.

    Sending good vibes your way :) xx

  • I need them to all stand at the till at the supermarket too 😊

  • Just as long as you don't visualise us all in the loo with you as well ;-)

  • You really are as daft as a brush! :) :) :)

  • Hey - the brush pun has already been used :-) Losing your touch moreless and going down the pan ;-) :-D

  • I wasn't even aiming for a pun, I just wanted to tell you that you were daft :)

    I was trying to be a bit more couth, but you've lowered the tone now :)

    Get back in your closet and keep a lid on it! :)

  • Pah - you shower me with insults and have tapped into my insecurities. I can't believe you would sink so low. You sponge off our ideas and come out with a load of flannel ;-) :-D

    (Notice I've expanded it to the general bathroom area as I've run out of specific toilet puns !)

    p.s. sorry Ruth - this was a fairly serious thread about good habits and moreless has hijacked it again with toilet jokes ;-)

  • I left a bog standard reply, but you had to engage sympathy from visitors to this wee room by rolling out your dirty laundry.

    I would remind you that no pumice intended :) :) :)

  • :-D I can't beat that pumice one - that was a classic !!

  • You two are a real tonic 😁

  • Wish you all the best with the job hunt πŸ˜ƒπŸ˜Š

  • For me it's been less about the new habits that I've generated, and more about the bad habits that I've broken.

    1. Stopped leaving lunch 'til the last minute and then being so hungry that I eat a pre-lunch sandwich whilst making my lunch !

    2. Ditto for cooking dinner !

    3. Stopped raiding the fridge whenever I get some work I don't want to do.

    4. Stopped eating the free biscuits at the office I work in on a Tuesday.

    5. Stopped thinking that every trip out is an opportunity to stop for coffee and cake/danish pastry - swapped lattes for earl grey tea if we do stop for a coffee, and the occasional Welsh Cake.

    6. (ok this is a good habit) - planned meals a lot more which has made better shopping choices.

    I feel I've made more progress on these, than on forming good habits - perhaps they take more time ? !

  • I'm going to try that perspective, which bad habits have gone now...

    Buying sandwiches out because I was too disorganised to make a packed lunch

    Haphazard portion sizes, and eating the lot even if my plate was clearly overloaded

    Postponing exercise eg going to gym, riding my bike, to the extent that weeks go by and I haven't done anything

    Going back for seconds/post dinner snack just as something to do

    Lying to myself how much weight I've put on, hiding in shapeless clothes

  • Interesting you said that about leaving food on the plate - when I made dinner last night, I did give myself quite a big portion (not that it was particularly unhealthy - quorn bolognase sauce and courgetti - but it just looked big !). I was getting towards the end of it and thought, you know what, I'm full, I really don't need the rest of this - and gave it to my husband to finish :-)

    I think you've done really well with all those broken habits - so don't beat yourself up about new habits that you don't feel are ingrained enough yet - also look at this list of bad things things that you've stopped doing. :-)

  • Hi Ruth,

    This is a very interesting post - really good!

    I just looked at the issue of forming habits, and I like this blog post, which I'm putting a link to:

    psychologytoday.com/blog/th...

    Also, the blogger mentions an article by Oliver Burkeman which is called "How long does it really take to change a habit" and I also enjoyed reading that. There is a link to that article in the blogger's post.

    You've given me some food for thought, thankfully it's not made me gain any calories!

    I will have a think about my own 'habits' - and whether or not they are formed yet, or still evolving.

    Lowcal :-)

  • Thanks for posting this Lowcal - the Burkeman article was especially interesting, particularly the last paragraph which makes a good point about why some habits can be so hard to break. We think that we need to break a 'snacking' habit and get frustrated when we can't. But that is because we aren't breaking the underlying cause of that snacking habit (i.e. boredom, comfort etc). Until we deal with that, we will have great difficulty in breaking the 'behaviour' of the habit.

    I think that rings true with a lot of posts that are written on here - why can't I stop eating, why can't I stick to the 'diet' - the reason is often enough that we aren't sorting out what is causing us to overeat in the first place.

  • Yep, that rings true. We need to either fix those reasons, or develop more convincing alternatives to turn to. Instead of comfort eating etc. Thanks Lowcal, I also found both articles very interesting.

  • Morning, Ruth, just seen your reply - glad you enjoyed the articles too.

    I completely agree with you Lucca, looking for the 'trigger' that lead us to overeat at that time, i.e. whether due to boredom, comfort eating, sadness etc etc is definitely a help, because then we can try to address that issue, if we can, and then the need to replace that need with food is less strong and maybe even non-existent. I think it can sometimes be very difficult to identify triggers though - as sometimes it can be due to a range of things, and maybe keeping a diary of our feelings alongside times when we overeat could help to identify what the triggers are.

    Lowcal :-)

  • Hi Ruth, thought provoking post hun. I personally think that when you have spent many years doing things one way or another, it's likely to take more than 12 weeks to break and form a new habit - it is a very good start though. I think we are often hardwired to self destruct and diss our own efforts, and because life is rarely 'a calm sea' we often crave comfort in things that are detrimental to our bodies wellbeing but provides succour to our minds at that particular time. We are complex pieces of engineering, with no two humans exactly the same, and as such the fine tuning is going to be complex too. You are doing a fine job hun, this post is proof of that and what a post it is! Keep doing exactly what your doing Ruth, your mind and body is appreciating it. 😊

  • Thanks Shellie, speaking absolute sense as normal. I like the idea of habits being about fine tuning, slight changes that make a big difference, but which need patience and skill to get right :)

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