THE 21 DAY THEORY

  • talks about her Confessions

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    Confession: I thought it was going to be easier.

     

    Turns out, I have very few really great habits.  The kind that will enable me to reach my goals in a fairly quick manner.  For the longest time I couldn’t figure this out.  I had always heard that if you do something for 21 days straight, you’ll develop a habit.

     

    Habit defined, is:

    hab·it

    noun

    1. An acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary: the habit of looking both ways before crossing the street.
    2. Customary practice or use: Daily bathing is an American habit.
    3. A particular practice, custom, or usage: the habit of shaking hands.
    4. A dominant or regular disposition or tendency; prevailing character or quality: She has a habit of looking at the bright side of things.
    5. Addiction, especially to narcotics {or FOOD, in my case} (often preceded by the ).

     

    Although these all apply to me in some way or another, I want to focus on number 1 today.   I have many of these in my life.  From praying before I fall asleep each night and checking on my kids after they’re asleep and before I go to bed, to the way I brush & floss my teeth and shave my legs.  The way I do laundry to the way I grocery shop.  The fact that I drink 32 oz. water after waking before I can do anything else and the way I prepare certain foods or clean my house or get dressed.  These things take almost no thought.  I am helpless to the way I do them because they are practically involuntary.

     

    However, I have a desire to have other things be involuntary in my life.  Clean eating.  Daily Exercise.  20 minutes of uplifting daily reading.  With the thought of 21 days makes a habit, I’ve set out to do just this many times.  I’ve gone an entire 21 days making clean eating choices, exercising faithfully each day, and getting 150 ounces of water.  I’ve cut out sugar & bad carbs for 21 days in a row…even as far as going 84 days in a row {12 weeks} doing these things and not cheating.

     

    Yet even then, it didn’t always stick.  Sure, I always have some semblance of health in my life and if I am living a life out of balance, you can guarantee I’m aware of it and it doesn’t last too long.  But even those week long periods of time out of health affect me negatively for much longer.  They affect not only my body {which seems to recover fairly quickly right now}, but my mind {which takes much longer to recover}.

     

    Then last week I received my weekly Habits of Health email from Dr. Andersen.  The subject: The Power of Habit.  Here are some of my favorite excerpts:

     

    “A habit is a repeated pattern of behavior that LITERALLY changes our brain and creates a “neural pathway” in our nervous system. This means, that it very easy for us to slip back into old habits because they have become a part of our biology. That’s right, they become part of us. It’s just like the old saying “it’s just like riding a bike” which of course means that even 20 years from now you could get back on a bike and all the movements would come right back to you. This is because when you were younger you developed a neural pathway that made these movements almost second nature. The same thing happens with unhealthy eating. These patterns of behavior become so ingrained into a person’s lifestyle that it becomes a part of them.

    This doesn’t mean that the person is helpless… on the contrary! Since they changed their biology in creating unhealthy habits then they can change their biology in creating healthy habits! The first thing is to recognize that habits are like making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Now, just follow me here. I want you all to imagine making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It’s simple enough, right? We all know how to make one; you just do it! Just as simple as that. But, if we actually take the time to imagine ALL the steps it takes to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich then it becomes much more complex. Let’s think about it:

    Step 1: Decide you want a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
    Step 2: Go into the kitchen.
    Step 3: Grab the bread from the pantry.
    Step 4: Grab the peanut butter from the pantry.
    Step 5: Grab the jelly from the refrigerator.
    Step 6: Grab a plate from the cupboard.
    Step 7: Grab a knife from the drawer.

    And so on and so forth…

    I think you see my point. It takes WAY more steps to complete than we originally thought. This is the exact same thing for habits. We tend to see an unhealthy habit as just a motion we go through but in reality we go through MULTIPLE steps. This is really great news because that means the client has multiple chances to interrupt the habit! So, here’s what we do… Help the client to think through their habits and identify all the steps it actually takes them in order to complete the unhealthy behavior. Write these steps down. Decide which steps would be the easiest to interrupt? Which steps are the easiest to notice? What can they do once they catch themselves? This way when they are about to go ‘on auto pilot’ they will be more aware of what they are doing and have a better chance at stopping themselves.”

     

    I love this because I see it as such truth in my life.  I have developed neural pathways for all my unhealthy habits from a young age.  I LOVE that I can “re-wire” my brain and change them, but I realize I have my work seriously cut out for me if I want them to become lasting healthy habits.  Dr. A goes on to say,

     

    "Practice patience. It can take as many as 180 days to truly drop an 
    old habit and adopt a new one, so tell them to stay with it!"

     

    Say what?  Here I had been thinking 21 days was adequate.  Even 84.  But no.  I need six months of consistently making great and healthy daily choices to possibly break my 28 year long bad habits.  I don’t think I’ve ever done anything having to do with health for six straight months.  As depressing as this thought could have been, it actually buoyed my spirits and gave me hope.  I love a challenge and having a number helps me visualize.  If I can be consistent for six months, I’m almost positive I could make some lifelong positive changes in my habits.  Wanna join?  Pick just one thing.  Commit to doing it daily {or 5-6 days a week in regards to exercise} for six months.  Let’s encourage one another!

    {image via Pinterest}

COMMENTS

4 Responses to the 21 day theory

  • Jamie wrote on September 27, 2011 at 8:23 // Reply

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on habits and the brain. I have recently stopped eating cheese, because I read in a book that it causes inflammation in the body and my body is currently full of inflammation. I have not had cheese for 2 weeks so far and I am going towards the 6 month goal of no cheese consumption. I have read a couple of books about the brain and how it functions by Dr. Daniel Amen. Sounds like Dr. Anderson and Amen are on the same wave length concerning how we form habits and how the brain works. Keep up the good work and I stand with you on this endeavor.

  • TyLeen wrote on October 11, 2011 at 12:00 // Reply

    I had read somewhere else that Amber was moving away. My “Amber” moved away a couple years ago. It was SO hard at first but my time talking to her on the phone and when we do actually get together means so much more then it ever did. Good luck with that Karli. I know it is not easy!
    You are such an inspiration. When I am sad or upset I don’t turn to food I just don’t eat. Also, not good. I have to find quick and easy healthy snacks to keep my body from completely crashing. Always a struggle, every day. I am so thankful the sun goes down at the end of the day and promises to come back up the next.

  • Kayla wrote on October 13, 2011 at 10:43 // Reply

    I’m a born & raised MN girl & couldn’t be prouder of that! Come & visit MN soon, you will love it here..ok seriously wait until the summer it is to die for gorgeous & fun, but on the other hand if you love the white fluffy stuff and don’t mind bundling up come out in the winter it is loads of fun!

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