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Thursday, 8 October 2009

Change your life in 66 days ?

Phillippa Lally and her colleagues at UCL (Lally et al (2009) How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world European Journal of Social Psychology) has been involved in addressing a fascinating question that is pressing for any practitioner who is trying to help their client change - namely how long does it take - not only to make a change but to ensure it is well established...in other words has become a new "habit" in their lives which they do automatically without thinking.

The average time taken was 66 days, although the spread ranged between 18 and 254 days. Not surprisingly, establishing new behavioural health habits (like doing sit ups every morning) took longer.

The good news from this study is that missing a single day's practice isn't of crucial importance. However, the bad news is that if a typical period for establishing a change is over two months (AFTER the change is learnt) brief interventions that are withdrawn as soon as a change is initiated are likely to lead to high relapse levels.

Our services (and ourselves as professionals) are forever overly preoccupied with clients at a Action Stage (in the Cycle of Change) and pay insufficient attention to Maintenance. Interventions for weight loss for example are well evidenced, but the containing failure at the maintenance stage continues to create problems. The issue is even more pronounced within mental health, where the preoccupation with acute problems remain just that - acute. Even when the issue of relapse is examined (as in depression) and its prevention through the use of mindfulness skills, there is little that looks at how long it takes a client to regularly and automatically use such new skills.

Whatever field we work in, if we were to keep the figure of 66 days in mind more frequently, it might substantially increase our long term effectiveness with our client and avoid the "hit and run" mentality that is currently so common.

2 comments:

  1. It is extremely interesting. I would be very keen on seeing the figures for establishing habits related to different fields. For example - it seems much easier to establish a habit of checking your e-mail every 5 minutes (in not seconds!) and much more difficult - to start exercising or eating well...
    Surely for those who work in obesity or addictions field the story of "short-lived" habits is far too familiar. I know of many examples when even 2-3-6 months of sensible eating ended in most unhelpful "rebounds".
    Are there any data on WHAT habits take the longest to establish?
    Many thanks...

    ReplyDelete
  2. Good question Jane. Unfortunately we just do not know at the moment because there hasnt been any research on it. It strikes me that this is another one of those "green field" sites thats begging for someone to explore it in more depth. Any takers?

    ReplyDelete

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