In February many of us may be thinking about Valentine’s Day and all the goodies attached to it. Instead, I have been thinking about a different topic: the mystery of motivation.

  • According to Merrium-Webster, motivation is simply the force or influence that causes someone to do something.
  • That force is usually intertwined with psychological, biological, emotional, and social influences.
  • Motivation can help to initiate goal-oriented lifestyle changes, but is it enough to sustain these changes?

Anyone who has ever had a goal in mind, which I think would apply to EVERYONE, knows that motivation by itself is sometimes not enough to get you where you want to be.

There have been many people with a goal in mind to lose 20 pounds or to run a marathon, and they did it. Why not you? You are no different than any of these successful individuals.

Motivation is the spark.
Habit is the motor.

I have no idea who said this? 🙂
(If you know, let me know.)

It’s often a mistake to rely on motivation to keep you going, because it is not the the only thing that keeps you going.  Instead it is more important and sustainable to use that motivation to create HABITS.  A habit is simply a health-oriented behavior that you practice & repeat. Once you repeat it enough times it starts to become automatic and feels easy.

How long does it take to build a new habit?

I’m sure you’ve heard 21 days here and 30 days there, however research published in the European Journal of Social Psychology found that it takes more like 66 days for a new habit to become an automatic part of our everyday lives. How long it takes a habit to form also depends on the person, the behavior, and the circumstances.  So if you want to set your expectations realistically it will take about 2 months build a new behavior into your life – not 21 days.

I know we live in a fast-paced, instantaneous society, so before you let this dishearten you, I’d like to explore two ways this research is actually beneficial:

  1. You can let go of that judgement towards yourself.  If you didn’t master that new habit in a few weeks, there is no reason to get down on yourself, because it is supposed to take longer! Never give up and try again.  It is supposed to be a longer journey.  Enjoy the process.
  2. You don’t have to be perfect.  The researchers found that “missing one opportunity to perform the behavior did not materially affect the habit formation process”, so in other words making a mistake once or twice does not have any measurable impact on the final result.  What you do the majority of the time is what matters the most.  It’s all about progress, not perfection.

So where do we go from here? At the end of the day it doesn’t really matter how many days it takes to get you where you want to be. Whether it takes 66 days or 254 days, you have to put the work in regardless.  The best way to get to day 254 is to use that motivation to start with day 1. Forget about the numbers, and start doing the work.  Where would you like to begin?

Katie Abbott, MS, RDN, INHC

Author Katie Abbott, MS, RDN, INHC

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