Stop! Don’t Let Your Resolutions Fall By the Wayside Quite Yet
We’re almost three weeks into those New Year’s Resolutions.
So how are you doing?
If you’re like 40 to 45% of Americans, this month you made a least one resolution for the coming year. What are your chances of actually making the changes you vowed to make? Statistics indicate that, for every 20 people who make a New Year’s promise to themselves, 4 people will break that promise within the first week. Ten more will abandon their good intentions within three months, and of the six people who make it past that three month mark, only 3 will still be going strong by the time the year comes to an end.
In his blog, Business Mind Hacks, business coach Alex Schleber talks about the length of time it takes to truly ingrain a new habit. Rebuffing the traditional advice that it takes 21 days to form a new habit, Schleber says it actually takes between 30 and 60 days–and says that the reason it takes that long is rooted in the physiology of the brain.
It has to do with white matter in the brain called myelin. Myelin forms a protective coating around well-used pathways in the brain, helping to insulate those pathways and allowing information to be transmitted up to 200 times faster than along less established pathways. In other words, the more you repeat any behavior, the more efficient and protected that habit becomes. (For a fun slideshow showing how myelin helps athletes and others develop true talent, click here).
The point is, it takes time–at least thirty days and even longer–for myelin to form around the neural pathways associated with that new habit you’ve been trying to form. And until it forms, your new habit is vulnerable and tentative at best, says Schleber and others.
(And once it’s formed, it makes it hard to completely forget an old habit, which is why many change-experts say don’t bother trying to “unlearn” an old habit–better to put your time into learning a replacement habit instead).
So the best way to keep your New Year’s resolution intact is to keep at it. Even if you’ve already let your new habit fall by the wayside, don’t give up. Pick it up, dust it off and keep practicing the new behavior you want to embrace for the rest of this month and on through February as well. And as you do, know that your brain will be working on your behalf, creating myelin to make your new habit more efficient and protected than ever.
Practice makes perfect. It also makes myelin, which just might turn out to be your weakening New Year’s Resolution’s new best friend.