Attention levels vary from person to person, but many believe the average human attention span is now shorter than a goldfish’s. Recent studies show that in the smartphone era, the average person’s attention span has fallen from 12 seconds in 2000 to eight seconds today — while goldfish have an attention span of nine seconds. In the digital era of buying online, two-day shipping and access to the internet at our fingertips, it makes sense that we are impatient with waiting. We find ourselves drawn to an “everything now” mentality due to our digital lifestyle.
For change to be authentic, it needs to happen slowly for the most part. The common myth, which is derived from a 1960s study, suggests that 21 days is the standard period to make or break a habit. Recent research now finds the average time is 66 days for a new habit to develop but can be anywhere from 18 to 254 days.
The National Wellness Institute has developed the Six Dimensions of Wellness, which are a great place to start your journey toward a healthier you. Goals and habits can focus on a variety of areas, such as improving sleep, stress management, efficiency at work or involvement in your community. Think about your day-to-day routines and habits, and re-evaluate your values. Positive change can help promote a healthier lifestyle no matter how big or small that change is. Identify one or two areas to work on first:
- Occupational Wellness: personal satisfaction from your career and professional enrichment
- Physical Wellness: need for physical activity, as well as learning about nutrition
- Social Wellness: contributing to your environment and community
- Intellectual Wellness: recognizing your creative knowledge and skills
- Spiritual Wellness: search for meaning and purpose
- Emotional Wellness: awareness and acceptance of feelings
Multiple factors influence the length of time it takes for a new behavior to develop:
- Have you implemented this new behavior before? If so, what worked when you tried to change last time? What didn’t work? Review your past mistakes and triumphs and develop a plan from there. List barriers you have experienced or might experience and ways to overcome those barriers. Write down the benefits you expect from this new behavior. What new opportunities might arise from implementing this change?
- Are you motivated to change? Think about your reason why you need or want to develop a new behavior. Write it down; this makes your goal tangible. Attach a picture to your reason. Turn to these reasons on tough days.
- Is the new behavior complex? Are you trying to quit smoking after 20 years or adding an evening walk after dinner three times a week? The complexity and variables of making a change affect how long it will take to become a habit.
- How much attention can you give to the new behavior? Making changes or developing a new habit takes dedication. Assess how much time is needed to work on developing this new behavior, and dedicate time strictly for working on it.
- What type of personality do you have? You are an individual. Some things are easier or harder for you compared to others. Go at your own pace, and focus on your personal progress. Do not be afraid to ask for help when you need it.
Three Ways to Jumpstart Healthy Change
- Replace a bad habit with a good habit, or try adding the new behavior to an existing routine.
- Instead of sitting down after dinner, go for a short walk.
- Try a simple bodyweight exercise (calf raises, squats) while you complete a standing chore (washing dishes, folding laundry) or boost your balance by standing on one leg while completing these tasks.
- While in the office, take a sip of water after you send an email or complete a phone call.
- Set reminders.
- If you are a visual person, try using sticky notes. Keep the note somewhere you look daily – on your door frame of your room, computer at work, etc. Another option: Take anywhere from 30 to 70 small sticky notes and put them on your door. Remove one a day when you complete your new healthy habit or avoid an unhealthy habit.
- Use the reminder application on your phone or computer calendar.
- Have a friend, spouse or family member remind you about your new behavior.
- Have an accountability partner.
- If offered, take advantage of your company’s health coaching program. Your health coach can help hold you accountable.
- Track your progress (using a journal, fitness app, etc.) and review it weekly or monthly. Make changes as necessary.
- Work on developing healthier habits with a co-worker, friend or loved one. Hold each other accountable in a positive way.
It is normal to become discouraged, angry or impatient while working on developing new habits. It may take you 254 days (approximately nine months) to fully develop a new habit. Recognize that the new habit or change will not happen overnight. Start small; little changes eventually add up to big results. If you falter or take a step backwards, that is OK. One slip does not mean you have to give up and fail. Recognize the slip and start again tomorrow.
Overall, think big picture while maintaining a healthy balance. Moderation is key. The American Council of Exercise states, “One meal won’t make you unhealthy, just like one workout won’t make you healthy.” Try working toward healthier behaviors and a healthy balance one new habit at a time. Remember, your health is your most valuable asset. The Asset Health Coaching Team wishes you the best on your journey to a better you.