We’ve all wondered how to get our patients to change their life habits (to the better of course…in our minds). In fact, the behavioural and physical therapies depend on us being able to convince patients to develop new habits – to bend and straighten their knees a few times before getting up from prolonged sitting perhaps, or to walk up the stairs instead of take the elevator. I don’t know about you, but I tear my hair out sometimes trying to get these behavioural changes. So, how long does it take for a new behaviour to actually become automatic? Well, BPS Research Digest alerted us to a paper by Phillippa Lally and colleagues who recently examined just such a question. Their study results, determining the time it takes for a new habit to become automatic, may surprise you. They had 96 (supposedly) normal people choose an eating, drinking or activity behaviour. In short it took between 18 and 254 days – average was more than two months! So, we clearly have to stick at it. If you are particularly interested, grab a copy of the paper – it is not just relevant to your patients – bet you have tried to kick a habit.
Tasha Stanton is a Canadian living in Australia, who consistently disappoints people at conferences when she speaks and doesn’t have a hint of a ‘Strayan accent. She was originally trained as a Physiotherapist at the University of Alberta, Canada and then apparently couldn’t get enough of school so she completed a Master’s degree studying spinal biomechanics. She then decided that she liked beaches more than 4 feet of snow and moved to Australia to complete her PhD at The George Institute for Global Health. She has just completed her PhD and is nervously awaiting the examination results. Luckily she is able to use the advanced skills attained during her PhD to expertly wash Prof Chris Maher’s car.
Lally, P., van Jaarsveld, C., Potts, H., & Wardle, J. (2009). How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world European Journal of Social Psychology DOI: 10.1002/ejsp.674