Did you know that it takes 40 days to change a habit?
According to the late Yogi Bhajan, it is so. It also takes 90 days to confirm the new habit; after 120 days, the new habit is who you are; and if you keep it up for 1000 days, you have mastered the new habit.
I’ve found that 120 days will make some profound changes. 120 days was enough to quit smoking. I did this by replacing a bad habit with a good one. Instead of puffing on a cigarette, I practiced the Kundalini breathing exercises Yogi Bhajan passed on to Western culture. I focused on 1 or 2 meditations and mantras at a time for 40-day runs. At the end of that winter, I had transformed into a non-smoker rather than an ex-smoker craving a cigarette. That was more than 15 years ago. Some would say Yogi Bhajan was a cult leader. And maybe that is true. Either way, smoking is a gnarly addiction for a lot of people; it was for me, so the man and his memory have my respect, as well as my gratitude. Since then the 40-day method has been my standard go-to when it comes to making constructive changes in my life.
I’ll get back to this later.
A few days ago, a gentleman responded to a meme on my Twitter page about writer’s block. From what he had to say with very young children to raise, I gathered that he doesn’t have time to write. Since I’m new to parenting via the stepmother path, I could sort of relate to what he was talking about.
I got to thinking about all we have to juggle in life – and then there’s the writing. It’s a balancing act that I’m not comfortable with. There was a time when I had the time to isolate for several weeks to write a rough draft because I didn’t really have to worry about anybody but myself. Even if the loneliness of being that single got to me so much that I suffered some serious writer’s block as a result, I miss having that kind of space to immerse myself in another world. Now, I only get 2 hours of daily writing time - 4 if I’m lucky - before I have to move on with everything else that needs to be done.
As an independent author, I’m also a publisher. I have to find my editors, artists, graphic designers, printers, and whoever else will be involved in the process of giving birth to a new book.
Independent author or not, there’s no getting away from all the social media stuff that needs to be done. Instead of simply working on the creative juice of novels and stories, writers now have to have a platform. We have to blog, tweet, pin, Facebook, and Instagram, etc. all for the sake of getting our name out there in the hopes that the world knows our stuff exists and will come to read it and love it. Published authors have to do the social media thing just as much as the Indies do.
Then there is the stuff of life - relationship, friendships, parenting, day jobs for most people, and beloved hobbies for those who have the time. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems there are much more demands on time and attention and energy than there ever have been before. Or maybe it’s because a child has been thrown into the mix of life, and I’m still getting used to that.
I’ve never been organized in my life, and now I have to be at least a little competent at it. Which brings us back to habits because I had to improve mine.
So about that 40-day method of creating healthy habits…
Or 90 day.
Or 120 day.
In March, I made a commitment of 4 small yet mighty changes of habit - daily meditation, walking, chores, and writing. I started the day with meditation and walking before getting my morning coffee. Then I wrote at least 2 pages every day and did at least 1 chore.
Yesterday was Day 120.
Small changes lead to big results.
Meditation has balanced me a lot more and I can concentrate so much more. I’ve lost about 15 pounds from walking – just walking. I usually write more than 2 pages a day. One chore often leads to at least another chore, sometimes 2 or 3 more. I’m not saying that I’m a neat freak now, but I tidy more than I used to and it has made a difference in how functional I am. In 120 days, I’ve finished a rough and messy draft of a novel. I’m almost finished with rewriting and polishing a fairy tale I wrote years ago.
I’ve been more productive during the last 120 days than I have been in years. With all the demands on my time and energy, I’m more productive than I was when I had the time and space to dive into an imaginary world for weeks at a time.
Just in case anybody would like a to-do checklist on consciously changing habits, I got some great tips from the guys at JumpCut, and their Viral Academy on making Youtube videos. Here ya go:
1) Identify the bad habit you need to change.
We lie to ourselves all the time about our habits, and justify them. Don’t do that.
2) Replace the bad habit with a good one.
We rely on our habits to get through the day. Taking away a bad habit without putting something else in its place won’t work. For example: Meditate for 5-10 minutes first thing in the morning, instead of opening your phone to check Facebook. Or do deep breathing exercises that will give you a head rush instead of reaching for a cigarette. That’s what I did.
3) Plant a seed habit.
Start small and build from there. It helps if you put yourself in the position that you have to do it. That makes it easier to do it every day. For example: Walk or ride bike to work. Write 2 pages before checking social media, etc.
4) Don’t break the chain.
This is where the 40 days comes in. If you don’t have a wall calendar, get one. Put a big fat X in any color you want on each day that you do your new, healthy habit. Do this for as many days as you can. Doing this feels deliciously satisfying.
If you make it to 40, try to push it to 90 days. Maybe spread to 120 days. And then…
I should probably aim for 1000 days to make sure these new habits stay with me forever.
Are there any writers out there who have any healthy habit forming tricks you’d like to share? What tools do you have to make it all happen? If you have any insights, please check in with a comment or two. Check in if you struggle with the juggle. Because I’m pretty sure we all do.
Thanks for reading.