2 Research-Based Ways to Form a Habit

Have you ever heard someone say, “It takes 21 days to develop a new habit”? If you have, recent studies have proven it wrong—it actually takes 66 days for something to become as much of a habit as it will ever become. You may have tried to make a new habit repeatedly, without success. Here are two research-based ways that can help you make your habits stick.

  1. Mental simulation

A study from UCLA found that mental simulations enhance the links between thought and action. For five to seven days before a midterm, college freshmen mentally simulated the process for doing well on the exam, the desired outcome of a good grade, or both. The results found that mental simulation of the process of good study habits improved studying and grades, most likely because it led to increased planning and reduced stress. This means that making habits comes down to what we visualize. Visualizing your goal every day can help make it a habit. If you think it, you can achieve it!

  1. Habit stacking

The Director of Stanford University’s Behavior Design Lab, Dr. B.J. Fogg, created this practice as part of his Tiny Habits program. How this works: We take advantage of habits we already have and build on them to create a new habit. Instead of associating your new habit with a set time or place, you pair it with a habit you already have.

The habit-stacking formula is: After/Before [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT].

Here are some listed examples:

  • After I pour my cup of coffee each morning, I will meditate for one minute.
  • After I take off my work shoes, I will immediately change into my workout clothes.
  • After I sit down to dinner, I will say one thing I’m grateful for that happened today.
  • After I put on my running shoes, I will text a friend or family member where I am running and how long it will take.
  • After I eat dinner, I will immediately do the dishes.
  • After I brush my teeth at night, I will read one chapter of my book.

This has been proven to work because you use habits you already have built into your brain. Think of something you do every day, whether you consciously think about it or not, and add the habit you want to make on to it.