A habit is action or series of actions, sometimes called a routine, which you do automatically. In most cases you don’t have to think about it. It feels natural because it is, and you do it without thinking.
For example, when you get into your car, you put on your seatbelt, check your mirrors, put your key in the ignition, make sure the car is in “park” if you have an automatic transmission, and then start the engine. You might connect your phone to the car, enter an address in your GPS, turn on the radio or put in a CD. You do all of these things in pretty much the same order whenever you get into your car, and you do them without giving them a moment’s thought.
If you wanted to change that habit, then you’d have to change your actions. You’d have to do something different and do it for long enough that the new behavior became second nature. If you wanted to learn a language instead of listening to your favorite group, for example, then you’d have to discipline yourself to put the new CD into the player.
The length of time it takes to form new habit depends on a number of things. One is your natural propensities: what you find easy to do and what is more difficult. Your environment in which those actions take place is also important, and so are the penalties and rewards of failing or succeeding in making the change that you want. That’s why psychologists tell you to build in rewards for even minor successes. Those things encourage you to stay with the new routine.
Twenty-one days is the published time frame. Recent studies, however, have shown that it’s more like two months and then some. That may be one reason why dieters give up. It takes longer than they expected for their new behavior to become second nature.
Habits can be good or bad. Most of us excel at bad ones and struggle to form and sustain new ones. The key to whether we succeed or fail has to do with our expectations and the amount of effort we’re willing to put forth to make that change.
Unless we are extraordinarily disciplined, we all have the tendency to relax the rules “just this once” or to make an exception, or a series of them. In other words, we all tend to fall back onto our old behaviors when something happens that makes it more difficult to follow the steps necessary to form the new habit. And every time we “lapse” we make changing our old habit into a new one that much harder. In other words, we reinforce our tendency to fail.
This is why coaching can be so effective. Not only can it provide shortcuts to our goals but, even more importantly, it will keep us on task. It will hold us accountable for doing what we said we wanted to do. The best coaches will get you to commit to the actions you will take between now and the next time you meet or talk, and then you’ll be expected to deliver on them. Your coach will ask you if you did what you said you would..
When we are the ones to whom we’re accountable, it’s a lot easier to tell ourselves all the good reasons why we did or did not follow our plan. But, when we have to explain it to someone else, then our reasons sound more like feeble excuses; and since we don’t want to admit to them, we instead tend to do what we said we would.
That alone makes a coach a worthwhile investment.