Changing hard-to-change habits or behaviors is among the greatest challenges we seem to face. During moments in our lives it is normal to be stuck in a pattern of behavior that is damaging to ourselves, our way of life, our health or our happiness. Sometimes despite being rational, well-accomplished, intelligent, and loving individuals, some thing that we are doing has a hold on us and despite persistent effort to change, we feel we are failing.
That is why Fitness Lady developed ‘4 for 30’.
A 30-day habit intervention program, designed to help 4 hand chosen women recognize and eliminate self-sabotaging behaviors under the guidance and supervision of a two certified personal trainers.
In order to succeed at changing behavior you will need to unlearn a faulty coping habit and replace it with new and less damaging strategies. The good news is that anything that can be learned can be unlearned, and we are all capable of learning more effective strategies.
So what does it take to change a bad habit? “28 days!”
Well, not so fast. The scientific evidence on learned behavior, typically shows that time to alter a behavior is a variable function of the amount of time you have been repeating the behavior (learning) and the strength of the reinforcer (reward) and that this is also influenced by the strength of any punishment that is applied simultaneously or as a consequence of the behavior (negative consequences).
What is also important in the equation is the amount of time that passes in between behavior, reward and consequences. Further complicating the picture is that for the average human living our daily lives, there is not just one of each of these (learning, reward, and consequences) involved in the behavior you are trying to change. In fact for every habit, whether it is overeating, drinking, smoking or gambling, there are many combinations of these, all of which are interacting with one another in the context of your entire life. This really complicates things, and explains why when life gets hectic, all of our good intentions of ‘eating well’ and ‘exercising’ fall by the wayside.
So basically, the scientific answer to how long it will it take to change a damaging behavior is … (drum roll, please)… as long as it takes.
- It will depend on how hard you work at it,
- How consistent you are in applying the strategies you are being taught to change your behavior
- How realistically you are able to view/experience the negative consequences of your behavior at the moment you are making the decision to act (denial).
For example, if we look at weight control. At any point in time, during any day, we are faced with dozens of mini-decisions that will impact our weight. These range from things that are loosely related to those that are more obvious. For example, the decision to roll over for an extra 15 minutes in the morning may cause you to be a little late, which leads to skipping packing a healthy lunch, which also adds stress to the start of your day and so on. This is very likely to build up towards making a less healthy decision at lunch. This is an example of subtle. A more obvious example might be when you make that decision to eat a fast food burger in your car for lunch. Most of us know this will not help our effort to lose weight – or do we. In fact it would seem that we are very skilled at denying even this obvious connection to interfering with our goals “in the moment.” Why? Because we have through repetition learned that the immediate reward of simplicity, reducing time pressure, and the emotionally (and possibly physiologically) rewarding experience of eating pleasurable high fat food choices all outweigh the potential for longer-term consequence (weight gain). Add in the denial factor (“I will make up for it later”) and we appear doomed.
Lack of awareness in the moment of exactly what is going on with each of these mini-decisions, is a major contributor to lack of weight loss success and lack of success with changing most troublesome behavior patterns.
Kedgy and Brianna Larson
Owner, Corrective Exercise Specialists at Fitness Lady Inc.