Tortoise wins: Adding healthy habits reaps rewards in the long run
As anyone who has ever given up on a New Year’s resolution knows, putting new behaviors on autopilot takes longer than you’d think. One study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology showed it took most people an average of 66 days to incorporate a simple new behavior – like, say using Step One Foods twice per day - into their daily routine.
A more complex - or difficult - behavior could take even longer.
This means that, unfortunately, you can’t simply start running five miles every day and turn that into an automatic habit in 66 days. According to the EJSP study, participants turned drinking a bottle of water into a habit much more quickly and consistently as compared to doing 50 sit-ups before breakfast. Researchers project that the most complicated habits take 8 ½ months (!) to become routine.
Which totally parallels my personal fitness journey! I started working out regularly at the "tender age" of 54. It took me about 6 months of daily drudgery for that activity to transform from something I forced myself to do into something I look forward to doing every day. But now it's a habit I can't quit! Frankly I can't imagine starting my day without that 3 to 5 mile walk/run.
OK – but that’s all about exercise. What about food? There’s data on that too. Another study found that children learned to like “yucky” vegetables more after trying them eight or nine times. Which make sense too – taste buds turn over every two to three weeks. It takes time to acquire new tastes.
So whether you’re trying to be more consistent with exercise or nutrition, turns out persistence is key.
Which is why you might have found my advice on what is “Step Two” different than perhaps what you were expecting. Maybe you thought I was going to give you a bunch of recipes highlighting the Mediterranean way of eating. Or maybe you thought I was going to tell you to eliminate specific foods, like soda or processed meats. Or maybe you thought I was going to instruct you to walk for an hour each day.
All of those would have been (and are) great pieces of advice but they might not have been right for you! We are all on our own personal journeys towards better health. Step two is really about solidifying step one (whether that was using our foods, or eating an apple a day, or taking a daily walk around the block) into something that you’re almost not thinking about anymore because it’s just become part of your routine. And then adding another “step” on top of that and building that next step into a habit.
Along the way, as I outlined in the previous blog, it also means removing any friction that might interfere with you taking the next positive step, and coming up with ways to pair healthy behaviors with more immediate rewards.
This might seem like a slow approach. The tortoise instead of the hare. But hares lose. They have boundless energy to start and then peter out because their goals were unrealistic or too complicated. Crash diet anyone?
Step two is also about being kind to yourself. Feeling good about the habit you created that is building health instead of disease. Knowing that perfection might not be attainable – at least not immediately - but being better and FEELING BETTER is. And that you didn’t get to your health issues – whatever they may be – overnight, so expecting them to reverse overnight is also not feasible. But that reversal IS feasible with time.
There is no perfect formula for Step Two. There is no right or wrong. It's ALL right if you're building healthy habits.
Get heart health tips and articles like this, delivered right to your email.
New articles every week.