The Path to Creating New Habits
Most of us would choose to take a well-worn path through the woods rather than blaze our own new trail because that takes work and time. It’s not easy, but there are times when a brand new pathway needs to be made to reach a new destination.
Have you ever heard the saying, “It takes 21 days to create a new habit?” As a Health Coach, this discussion comes up often during coaching calls with Medi-Share members I work with. And while I’m sure there is some truth behind this statement, there is also an all-or-nothing concept behind it that can misrepresent the nuances of creating habits.
One of the challenges with this 21-day theme is that if you miss a day, you are back to square 1. That is enough to send most people into a tailspin with thoughts like: “I’m a failure,” “I’ll never get this right,” “I may as well give up,” etc. Been there?
The reality is that there are entirely too many variables to equate an exact number of days it takes to change a habit anyway. Some things that must be considered are: How complex is the new habit? How similar is the new habit to something you are already doing? What schedule disruptions are accounted for?
With those variables to consider, try placing the focus on consistency rather than stating an exact number of days it will take to create a new habit. Let’s explore further!
Forming New Habits
I live in the beautiful state of West Virginia. Due to the mountainous terrain and the woods behind my home, sitting on my back porch feels like sitting in a tree house. I have about ten different places within a 30-minute drive where I can get in a quick hike in the woods after work, or sometimes even during my lunch break! Maybe that is why when I think of habit change—I think of a hike in the woods.
Imagine that, like Anne of Green Gables, you have a trail through the woods that links your house with that of your best friend. That trail has been there for years. And because you spend every day with your friend, it is nice and clear. Suppose one day you decide that you want to make a new trail so that you can walk past a particular berry bush on your way to visit your friend. The first time you go that way, it is going to be very difficult. You will have to do a lot of work to clear the new trail. But, the more often you take that trail, the clearer and more packed down it will become.
The old trail is still there, but every day it becomes more overgrown because you aren’t walking down it. If you do take the old trail one day, it doesn’t mean your new one is totally gone. You just want to get back to the new one to continue the process of making the new trail wider, more packed down, and easier to travel. And by traveling the new trail more often, you are also letting the old trail become more overgrown and forgotten.
This is literally what is happening with the neurons in your brain as you are establishing a new habit. New pathways are being built that make it easier to do the new habit each time. The sequences of how the nerves fire become more efficient in a process called “chunking” and, concurrently, the old pathways are being forgotten.
God gave Paul insight ahead of his time when he instructed the church in Rome to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). This type of renewal does not happen overnight, but rather comes with time as you press into the Lord for guidance, wisdom, and discernment. This consistent focus on the Lord transforms your way of thinking over time, as you allow Him to change you from the inside out.
Remember the Foundation
Whether the new habit you are starting is “5 fruits and veggies a day,” “heart-rate-raising exercise for 30 minutes, 4 days a week,” “devotional time with breakfast,” or “weekly date night with my spouse,” have the wise advice from Proverbs in your mind and “Do not set foot on the path of the wicked or walk in the way of evildoers. Avoid it, do not travel on it; turn from it and go on your way” (Proverbs 4:14-15).
Stay strong and hold to the new trail that you have worked so hard to establish!
However, if you are successful for ten days of your new habit and then fall into your old habit for a day, remember that you aren’t starting from square 1. You have laid a foundation. You have already done the hardest work of clearing the path. All you need to do is get back on your new trail again. The more often you travel your new path, the sooner it will become the easiest one to travel. It will be just a normal part of what you do.
What new habits are you developing new neural pathways for? Let us “stir one another to love and good works” and “encourage one another” (Hebrews 10:24-25) by sharing what you are doing in the comments below!