Busting Myths About Building Habits

Good habits are important. They help us to address the necessities of our day-to-day lives with effectiveness and ease. Working on good habits every day to make them long-lasting routines can help you accomplish amazing things.

So why, then, are good habits so hard to adopt? There are a number of explanations out there—and unfortunately, most of them are straight-up myths. When you’re trying to build a new routine, it’s important you see through these unhelpful myths to set strong practices.

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Myth: Building habits takes X number of days

The “21-Day Rule” is a great example of a commonly accepted axiom that has no basis in fact. The saying generally goes that it takes 21 days of practice to form a habit—though the exact number varies by the teller, often ranging anywhere from 28 to 60 days. There’s a good first sign that the information is suspect.

This myth seems to have likely begun with a misreading of Dr. Maxwell Maltz, who conducted extensive research on self-image. He didn’t find the development of good habits attached to any specific timetable, but people attribute the idea to him anyway. The 21-Day Rule is simple and easy to remember, and certainly, three weeks of daily practice on a worthwhile habit can be helpful. But the fact is that people form new habits in their own time, and for their own reasons. Rather than chasing a specific calendar achievement, look into the best ways to sustain a habit on a daily basis, and adapt it to your particular needs. You’ll find that the timetable takes care of itself.

Power tip: Regardless of how you build better habits, you can use Tasks in Evernote to help you stick with your new plan: including setting due dates, priorities, and reminders.

Myth: Missing just one day can derail your whole plan!

Far more than a set timetable or schedule, regular practice is important for building healthy habits. The more you can keep at them, the easier they become to maintain, until they’re an ingrained part of your regular routine. This, however, has given rise to another myth: If for some reason you miss a day here and there, it’s supposedly a disaster. That simply isn’t true.

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The idea is sometimes called the “Don’t Break the Chain” method—you’re supposed to ensure that you spend at least some amount of time each day on your new habit. It’s often attributed to Jerry Seinfeld but is similarly connected to the names of a number of famous people. The key is consistency. When inconsistently applied, habits prove very difficult to hold. But rest and recuperation are just as important; forcing oneself to engage in an activity despite fatigue or mental overload can lead to burnout. Don’t berate yourself if you miss a day or need to take a pause. Simply keep track of how often you do so and apply the data when working toward consistency.

Power tip: Evernote’s Habit Tracker template is a great way to help you watch your consistency and progress, and take breaks from building your habit when you need to. That lets you set your own pace and keep at your routine without burning out.

Myth: All new habits must build up to something bigger

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Goals are important, especially when it comes to building habits. But there’s a bit of a secret to it: a habit is a practice, not an achievement. A good habit doesn’t just end when you reach a goal. It’s an ongoing process. It’s not leading to any grand end; the benefits lie in the journey itself.

Goals can help, but don’t make them your end-all. Instead, set smaller goal posts that can help you mark your progress. What steps will be required each day? What constitutes successfully practicing your habit? What kinds of milestones will you use to mark progress? Answer these questions as practically as you can and incorporate them into your efforts.

Power tip. Breaking your habit-forming into chunks is an excellent way to work towards it in incremental steps. Use the Daily Planner template to write down your steps and set deadlines for completion. That way, you know what you need to accomplish each day and why.

Myth: You should replace old habits with new ones

People often think that building up a good habit starts by identifying and eliminating a bad one. For example, someone who wants to adopt better eating habits might say that they need to stop having lunch at fast-food restaurants every day first.

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That’s helpful, sure, but the two aren’t necessarily related. You can stop eating fast food for lunch—but if you don’t improve your dietary habits, it won’t necessarily result in an improvement. Don’t connect the two in your mind, or assume that starting a good habit means breaking an old one. Just start it, and address and overcome the bad habits on their own.

Now is the best time to start!

Starting a new habit is exponentially more difficult without a plan to follow and a system to gauge it in practical terms. With a system in place, it’s so much easier—not only with building the habits from the start, but also in providing a cushion for when you slip. Dispense with the myths and look into better ways to build healthy habits. Good planning and regular practice will get you there.

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