Change isn’t easy, especially when it comes to behavior. Perhaps this experience sounds familiar: You’ve resolved to develop a healthy habit, like getting more exercise, but somehow it just won’t stick. What does research tell us about lasting behavior modification and why doesn’t it work when you put pressure on yourself? The answers are in this article.

How long does it take on average to change a behavior?

On average, participants in a study conducted by neurobiologist Gerhard Roth needed 66 days to establish a routine of choosing healthier foods. The period it took to outsmart the subconscious mind varied from person to person, from 18 to 254 days. The individual personality type played a major role here, with the sensation seeker having an easier time than the highly organized creature of habit.

Don’t pressure yourself

Researchers have identified favorable and unfavorable situations for making a change in behavior. A study at the Ruhr-University Bochum (RUB) in Germany found that stress limits self-determination, making it harder to change behaviors. When you are under pressure, the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline can keep you from thinking and acting in a goal-oriented fashion. The parts of the brain that steer our habits continue working normally under the influence of the stress hormones. So under stress, we tend to cling even more tightly to our established routines.

We are more likely to perform habitual actions than new behaviors because they are based on well-developed neural networks. For a new habit, such a network must first be established. And that can only happen when the behavior is repeated as often as possible. In other words, we have to “practice” the new behavior so that it becomes a new habit. If you are trying to establish a behavior that it is not really possible to practice, like trying to get rid of exam anxiety, it can help to practice it mentally – running through the scenario again and again in your mind.

Here are six tips that can help you change a behavior

  1. Identify the right goal. Ask yourself if the new type of exercise is a good fit for you and if you have fun doing it. Visualize the situation and ask yourself if this goal is right for you. You should also doublecheck how realistic your goal is.
  2. Stay calm and choose a non-stressful period of time for making your change. Otherwise your hormones will upset your plans.
  3. Seize the moment. Events in your life that represent fundamental change, like a move, a new job, or becoming a parent, are also good opportunities to rethink your old habits.
  4. Write down your goals. Make a contract with yourself. You can also look for people with similar goals to talk to.
  5. Change your surroundings. Certain situations in your environment can trigger your habits. For example, if you always pass a kebab shop on your way home from work and often can’t resist the smell, then just start taking a different route. A study at Harvard University showed that people on vacation find it easier to break old habits like smoking because their usual triggers aren’t present.
  6. Keep in mind that you can do anything, but you don’t have to. Here’s a simple exercise you can use to help you make a conscious and life-affirming decision to change.

Make a list of the things that you’ll have to do to make your change. For example, “I have to exercise more.”

Then replace every “I have to” with “I want to” or “I have decided to/not to”. This will give you a greater sense of self-determination. Only you can decide what you want to do. Next complete the sentences by writing “I want to… because…”. In our example, the sentence might read: “I want to exercise more so I’ll be in better shape and have more energy.” Try to formulate things this way in your daily life as well.

Through exercises like this, you’ll learn to take more responsibility for your goals, making you more likely to reach them. Try our tips to help you make a lasting change in your behavior. And if you want to exercise more, why not try the FiTS Workouts? They are tailored precisely to your needs, don’t take long, and are a lot of fun!