Well, the new year has begun and collectively we’ve resolved to improve some aspects of our lives once again. But what’s the best way to foster new habit acquisition and integrate human behavioral change?
Dan Millman, author of “Way of the Peaceful Warrior” and other books, has stated that it takes 36 days in a row of doing a particular activity to install that activity into our unconscious mind as a new habit.
As an example, if you want to floss your teeth regularly and improve your oral hygiene, simply get yourself to do it everyday, happy about it or not, and after 36 days it’ll have become a habit you don’t have to work so hard at anymore. Flossing will have become automatic. Other sources insist that that number is more like 40 days or 100 days. I’ve also heard 28 and 21. But whatever that magic number may be, it seems like there is general agreement on the basic principle that if you do something everyday for a while – at SOME POINT it becomes ingrained into you as a habit.
The thing is – it doesn’t have to be an extreme effort or the maximum representation of that new activity to “count.” It just has to be SOMETHING.
Take going to the gym as an example. Let’s imaging you have resolved to get into excellent shape this year and have decided that regular gym attendance is the ticket. Perhaps you have seen a TV show like the Biggest Loser that depicts people working very hard at the gym with a drill instructor who screams at them to do one more sit up. Or maybe you have been in really good shape before in your life and have run marathons or something. Either way, you might have in your mind that “going to the gym” means a formidable workout of an hour or more of intense activity.
Now imagine January 2 rolls around and you take action on your new year’s resolution. You go to the gym and take yourself through a workout like you have imagined in your mind. It is difficult but satisfying. You’re proud of yourself. You feel great though-out your day.
Next day you wake up sore but determined to maintain your discipline, so off to the gym you go for another challenging workout.
Third day you wake up and feel extra sore and tired and figure an extra 15 minutes sleep would be good for you. You get to the gym late, hurry through a workout, and get to work a bit late and a bit harried.
Forth day you never quite make it to the gym at all.
You have fallen victim to the “All or Nothing” syndrome.
It’s what gets most of us when trying to create new habits. Fortunately there is a better way.
Shifting at the level of Identity
The “All or Nothing” syndrome is one of the chief reasons I created the “E.A.S.E” System in the first place. To create new habits that last, behaviors need to be so regularly done they cause an identity shift. Because you run everyday you become a runner, not just a couch potato who is trying to get into shape.
The graduated levels of the EASE system allows you to do exactly that. You run (or walk or floss or write or whatever it is) everyday but a varying levels. On one day you might do a huge workout, another day you might just jog around the block. One day you write an entire chapter while another day you write just one good sentence.
What is most important is that everyday you do SOMETHING, even if it is just a little. That way your unconscious mind gets the message that this activity is part of WHO YOU ARE. Soon, the new activity is as integrated into your behaviors as the way you tie your shoes.
The E.A.S.E system is fully explained in the ebook (“Step up to Mastery with E.A.S.E”) that you may have already downloaded from the Ericksonian.com website. It’s free when you sign up for the mailing list. You’ll find that all on the home page if you haven’t dome so already.