Building Migraine-Friendly Habits, 66 Days At a Time
Last updated: November 2014
Most of us have heard the old adage that it takes 21 days to establish a new habit. If you’re trying to live healthier, however, researchers want you to know it’ll likely take longer than that.
A habit can be defined as a behavior or action that is triggered automatically whenever we encounter the situation in which we’ve repeatedly done the behavior or action. Habit formation is defined as the process by which a new behavior becomes automatic.
So, for example, if I have a cup of coffee first thing in the morning, and then I have one again the next morning and the next, I am building a habit, a mental link between waking up in the morning and having a cup of coffee. In my mind, the two begin to go hand-in-hand. (This is the process of habit formation). With every day that passes, the link gets stronger and more difficult to break.
In times past, many of us believed this link was firmly established after about 21 days. However, this appears to be a misinterpretation of a classic text that somehow made its way into popular myth.
In 1960, a plastic surgeon/psychologist wrote a book in which he discussed how long it takes to “get used” to something, whether that something is a new house or a new face. Psychologists call this process habituation, and it is not the same as habit formation. However, it is this process (habituation) that seems to take an average of about 21 days.
Habit formation, on the other hand, takes much longer.
A 2009 study tracked a group of participants for 84 days and found that habits take, on average, 66 days to form. There is variation among people, of course, and some people might take a significantly longer amount of time to form a new habit than others. Others may take considerably less. The type of habit being formed also may have some influence over how long it takes to form it. Complex habits, such as a daily exercise routine, seem to take longer to form than simple ones, such as drinking a glass of water after a meal.1
Regardless of how long it would take any one of us to form a particular habit, the study’s results have important implications for those of us wishing to commit to healthier living come January 1st.
There are many lifestyle changes we migraineurs can make to improve our quality of life and hopefully decrease – or at least more effectively manage – our symptoms:
- Substituting one trigger food for a migraine-friendly alternative;
- Going to sleep at the same time every night;
- Waking up at the same time every morning;
- Reducing or eliminating alcohol intake;
- Reducing or eliminating caffeine intake;
- Scheduling regular meal times;
- Drinking more water;
- Starting a daily yoga practice or taking a daily walk; and/or
- Meditating for five to ten minutes upon waking or before bed.
While we all likely have different changes to make (no one person’s triggers, remedies, or attacks are the exact same as another’s), we generally agree that January is a great time to start making them. Based on this information, however, I think I better start making changes now if I want to succeed at my New Year’s resolutions by January. Who’s with me?
Which are you most sensitive to?