As anyone who has ever tried a new diet knows, it’s easy to commit to a healthy-eating plan—and even easier to lose steam or willpower and ditch your resolve after a few weeks or even days. That’s because most of us don’t give our new, healthy habits the time and attention they need to become automatic, suggest findings in the European Journal of Social Psychology. When researchers surveyed people who were trying to embrace a new habit over a 12-week period, they found that on average, it took 66 days for a new behavior to stick. Of course, everyone is different—some lucky participants formed a new habit in just 18 days, while others needed 254 days. The long and the short of it: It doesn’t happen overnight for anyone.
“So many of us give up on new habits we’re trying to establish because we’re looking for instant gratification,” says Jean Kristeller, PhD, a psychology professor at Indiana State University and author of the forthcoming book The Joy of Half a Cookie: Using Mindfulness to Lose Weight and End the Struggle with Food. But the hard truth is creating new, healthy behaviors can take just as much time, energy, and effort as breaking bad ones.
But the work doesn’t have to feel like drudgery. In fact, a mindful approach can help you enjoy the process of forming a healthy eating habit, whether your goal is to choose veggies over refined carbs to lose weight, to slow down to enjoy mealtime, or to eliminate meat to match your ethics. “Mindfulness helps decrease the effort that people experience in making changes,” says Kristeller. “It seems to help connect us to more powerful ways to change those old neural pathways that are literally etched into the brain, and work to find and create new ones to strengthen.”
The following plan will help you set real expectations for the duration needed to make a lasting change, while gradually incorporating mindfulness practices, smart food choices, and more pleasure (we promise!) into each meal. The best part? Commit to these practices over the next 10 weeks, and you’ll flip on your brain’s “healthy eater” switch forever.
See also The Mindfulness Meditation Guide