One of the most common questions people ask me is: How long does it take to create a new habit? Here’s why this question is not relevant, and what you should focus on instead.
This All Started with the Snooze Button…
In August 2013, I was on a group call with my mentor Loren Slocum Lahav, when Loren asked,
How much longer will you keep snoozing on your life?
She wasn’t speaking specifically to me, but the question resonated deeply. I was a compulsive snooze-button-hitter. That was the moment I shifted my life. I resolved to stop hitting the snooze button. I resolved to stop checking email in the morning before the gym.
I committed to putting myself and my health first.
The next morning, I put it into action. I woke up, got dressed, and got out of my apartment as quickly as possible. Once I was outside at 6:30 am, the only natural place to go was for a walk or to the gym. Thus began the ritual that I eventually called “Fitness First.”
One of the most common questions people ask me about my streak is:
How long does it take to create a new habit?
How Long It Takes to Create a New Habit is Irrelevant
My first response was — and still is — It’s not a habit.
A habit is something that we do unconsciously. Getting up and brushing my teeth is a habit. Hitting the snooze button was a habit that I was actively working to break. Checking email and social media was another habit that I was trying to break.
Walking out the door to go to the gym was — and still is — an intentional choice. In the early days, before I adopted the language of rituals, I called it a practice.
In the early days of Fitness First, I didn’t see how it could ever become a habit. It felt fragile, like a baby tree that would uproot in a strong wind. It was something I had to actively nurture and protect. I had to decide to do it each day.
Today, almost 4 1/2 years later, getting one foot in front of the other to walk out the door is still an intentional practice. The same is true of meditation, sitting down to write, and publishing my work, as well as the other rituals I’ve created.
The Relevant Question: When Does the Energy Shift?
The energy of Fitness First eventually shifted. The struggle to walk out the door became less intense, and the activity began to exert a pull on me. This shift has happened with every ritual I’ve created since then.
The relevant question is: When does this shift happen? When does the activity move from push to pull?
The Magic Number
Through my process of personal experimentation, I have found that a significant shift from push to pull happens around Day 120 of the practice.
It’s like the universe sprinkles pixie dust on the activity. The practice doesn’t become automatic — it’s still not a habit — but it “locks in” in a different way.
It’s no longer a question of whether I’m going to exercise in the morning, or how I’ll fit it in. It’s a given. This is what I do. No matter what, I find a way to do some form of physical exercise each morning. On the flip side, I don’t hit snooze in the morning.
I’m celebrating that shift this week with my daily blogging. On Monday, I published for the 120th consecutive day. And I’m feeling the shift from running a daily publishing experiment to being a daily blogger.
The Day 120 Magic
Now that I’ve seen this effect with other rituals, it becomes self-reinforcing.
I already felt the 120-day magic on Sunday night, even though I had not yet written what I would publish on Monday. I felt this energy shift even more intensely than others, perhaps because this has been such a big ritual for me, and so hard-fought.
I had a spring in my step. I was pumped.
I went to sleep on Sunday night feeling the excitement of anticipation that arises when you know the next day is going to be amazing. It reminded me of the night before summer camp, or before a big special event.
On Monday morning I bounced out of bed with an energy and excitement for the day ahead that I haven’t felt in a really long time. It propelled my entire day.
I felt more clear about my life direction than I have in a long time. I felt capable of doing anything. I was open in a new way to the possibility and potential of life.
This is the magic of 120 days. It’s the shift that happens when the thing you’ve been working toward suddenly gives back to you and starts to pull you toward it.
Many people believe that it takes only 21 or maybe 40 days to create a new behavior. If you believe this, then you will be more likely to quit if you’re still struggling at day 40. You’ve got to keep going. That shift will come, assuming you’ve built your rituals in the right sequence (more on this another time).
When the energy does shift, you will be so glad you persisted.
Because it feels like magic.
Are you ready for to live a life of intention, instead of reaction? Are you eager to experience the magic pixie dust and the boost of confidence that comes from embodying a new behavior change? Join the movement at The Ritual Revolution.