Hints on Habit-Forming From an 88-Year-Old


When we talk about making changes in our lives, what we’re really talking about is forming new habits. But as you’ve no doubt realized, breaking from routine — even if it’s done in service of a new routine — is hard. Really hard. It’s why so many health articles, TED Talks, and apps promise that they’ve found the solution. So few of us believe we have the answer; so many of us are looking to try something new.

Part of the problem, of course, is that there’s no single rule for building habits that’s going to work for everyone. With that in mind, blogger Darius Foroux decided to think outside the box. He recognized that his 88-year-old grandfather had certain healthy habits that were etched in stone: things like going for a daily walk, or going to bed at the same time every night.

So instead of trying the next in a long line of habit-tracking apps, Darius asked his grandfather to explain how he’d formed those iron-clad habits. And he says that his grandfather’s process comes down to these four steps.


Step 1: Decide What Habit You Want to Form, and Why

The ‘what’ of a habit is easy enough. But Darius’s grandfather insists that you should have a firm reason for why you’re trying to form a particular habit. Don’t attempt to wake up at 6:00 every morning just because it’s what “successful people” do. Figure out what’s important to you — or what goal you’re trying to accomplish — and set out to build your habits from there.


Step 2: Pick a Set Time For Your Habit

Darius acknowledges that if you’re not a retired 88-year-old, this one might prove difficult. But the idea is that if you value something, and want to commit to doing it daily, putting it in your calendar in permanent ink will force you to make time for it.


Step 3: Measure Your Habits

There is a lot to be said for measuring your goals. Measuring keeps you accountable, for one thing. And being able to look back on what you’ve accomplished — say in miles run, or in minutes spent doing yoga — can be a powerful motivator. But motivation and accountability aside, measuring your habits will also help with the step above. If you know how long you need to complete a habit, it will be easier to work it into your day.


Step 4: Do It For at Least One Week

You’ve probably seen a half-dozen assertions about how long it takes to form a habit. Darius refers to research that says it takes 66 days. You’ve probably seen other people say it takes 28 days. But according to Darius’s grandfather, it takes just 7. “In my experience, it takes a week to get used to doing something regularly,” he told Darius. “So if you successfully wake up at the same time every day for seven days straight, you can count on yourself to do it every day from that point.”

Maybe that’s the confidence of a man with an iron will, someone to whom habit-forming comes easily. But maybe he’s right. Maybe — with a schedule in place, and with a solid understanding of what’s motivating us — a week is all it takes.

It certainly can’t hurt to try.

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