Monday, February 7, 2011

66 Days to Change Your Habits Post-Divorce

If it really takes an average of 66 days to learn a new habit, is it possible that’s about how long it can take to learn to be divorced? Alright, the study shows it can actually take between 18 and 254 days. I’ve previously predicted 208 days.

How habits work. Habits are behaviors that are performed automatically (without thought), because they have been performed repeatedly over time. There is a trigger or cue in the environment. For example, it’s lunchtime. When we encounter that trigger or cue, we display the behavior without thinking about it. For example, it’s lunchtime so I’m going to have some fruit and yogurt (instead of a big mac, the habit). You have to be clear about what you want to do in a particular situation and then do it each time you encounter that situation. Over time, it becomes increasingly easy and automatic.

How habits work post-divorce. When you’re with someone a long time, you learn a bunch of habits. Post-divorce, these must change. There are overt behaviors we have to change. Instead of calling my once-significant other when I’m in a fix (the trigger), I have to call someone else…or figure it out myself (the habit). There are covert behaviors we have to change. Instead of thinking about how terrible it is that I’m in a fix and can’t call my once-significant other, I must think about how good it is that I’m going to be able to handle this mouse in the house by calling a friend, or an exterminator, or getting some cheese and a mousetrap (sorry if that’s PI).

Really, all change is about changing behaviors and ways of thinking at approximately the same time. There’s always a chicken and egg question. Did I think I can get rid of the mouse and then get rid of it? Or, did I get rid of the mouse and then think I’m able to get rid of mice? Really, it doesn’t matter.

The trick is to decide you want to change the habit, figure out the triggers or cues in the environment and change your response, the habit, when you encounter those triggers or cues. Start thinking you can change things in 66 days, and worry about the chicken-egg question later. What’s the first habit you want to change?

More about the habit change study.

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