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The Habits and the Rituals you have

You are what you think, feel and do


It’s not by accident that top performers in personal development like Arianna Huffington, Tony Robbins, Brendon Burchard and Robin Sharma look after their body and mind for they both need exercise, good nutrition and rest to stay in top condition.

So what was your New Year’s resolution? Perhaps you were going to improve your fitness by working out regularly at the gym and meditating daily to improve your emotional state? It normally starts off so well too, full of determination and enthusiasm … but are you still visiting the gym and meditating with the same frequency and enthusiasm now we are in February? Has this new habit taken hold?


How difficult could it be – it only takes 21 days to change a habit? – Well actually it really depends on the habit you want to change! The 21 days to change a habit is a myth that is often quoted but is very misleading.  The myth came from research in the 60’s from a plastic surgeon, Dr Maltz, who noted amputees commonly took about 21 days to adjust to a loss of a limb. (1) That then became 21 days to change a habit proffered from numerous sources, which people just accepted …really!

Let’s illustrate the point - How busy was your gym 2nd January ... busy right? How busy 21 days later ... probably still quite busy? How about now... are the numbers down dramatically?

A study by University College London showed that it took on average 66 days repeating an action for it to become a habit.(2)  The repetition created a cognitive association when the “cue” was encountered then specific behaviour is performed automatically, without thinking about it. The time range to form a habit was from 18 days to 254 days! It really depended on how hard work the habit was. That to me makes sense. Incidentally the study also found if you missed a day it didn’t have a significant effect on forming the new habit.

Let’s clarify - a habit, like washing the same part of your body first in the shower, is something you do repeatedly for the purpose of performing an action without even thinking about it. It’s a decision you make at some point, but you stop making it a deliberate conscious decision, but repeat the same action time after time. But there is more. You are not just cognitively unaware of a habit, it also happens in an unemotional way too. As you repeat the actions your emotional response lessons. For example activities you thought as pleasurable initially like having a meal with work colleagues after work, become mundane week in week out, and those activities that seemed originally painful, like getting up early to go to the gym before work, becomes less so with time. It’s not that we feel emotionless with the habit, it’s down to how we are feeling at the time. If we have had great successes at work then the meal with colleagues may seem more appealing than if we had a week full of disappointment.

A ritual is started with deliberate intention and focus, with the purpose outside the action itself. For example taking a lunchtime walk to revitalise your energy and clear your mind for the afternoon ahead. Rituals over time can become a habits that serve you.

Considering Event Perception Interaction Consequence – EPIC Model™ discussed in my last post – what habits could contribute to the consequence “I feel tired and exhausted when I get home from work”. Perhaps not being resilient to stressors at work, not having regular exercise, compromised work/life balance, and poor sleep discipline?

To have the consequences you desire you have to form new rituals and eliminate undesired habits that don’t serve you.

When we make a mindful choice we can make the habits we form as a result of positive rituals, and this awareness is the catalyst that can power change. Great serving habits follow the desirable rituals we set for ourselves.

What are your rituals?  “To improve my fitness and energy, first thing every morning when I wake up and before I go to work I …get up and exercise ... or ... I roll over and use the extra time to sleep?”  The rituals you set are about personal choice, and for the habit to form these rituals need to be compelling.

Do you have any comments on how to break the habits that don't serve, and how to adopt habits that do? I'm interested in your thoughts.

  1. Psycho-Cybernetics A New Technique for Using Your Subconscious Power, Maltz M. 1960 New York : Pocket Books

  2. Lally, P., van Jaarsveld, C. H. M., Potts, H. W. W. and Wardle, J. (2010), How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world. Eur. J. Soc. Psychol., 40: 998–1009. doi:10.1002/ejsp.674

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