I’ve often heard “you can build (or break) a habit in 21 days”.  Yet, I’m not sure I’ve actually built (or broken) a habit in 3 weeks.  Have you?

For example, this past month, I’ve been participating in the Ultimate Blog Challenge.  Each day this month I wrote a different blog post.  This included holidays, weekends, and the week I was on jury duty.  For 31 days, I wrote a new blog post.  10 days longer than the 21 days “needed to build a new habit”.  Yet, the first day of the new month, I didn’t write one word!  Nope, not one word!  (And nothing on the 2nd and 3rd days either!)

What happened?  Does this mean I didn’t build a new habit in 21 days?  (or in this case 31 days?)  Unfortunately . . . yes!

How many days?

How many days?

According to the Merriman – Webster definition a habit is “an acquired mode of behavior that has become nearly or completely involuntary”.  For me, the key word is involuntary!

To figure out what went wrong, I decided to look at what worked!  Previously to this challenge, I had written 2 – 4 blog posts each month.   During this challenge, I wrote 31 posts.  So, obviously, something worked! :)  I trace my success back to three things . . . 1) priority, 2) accountability, and 3) routine.

  1. Priority – Creating interesting and knowledgeable blog posts last month was a priority to me.  As I identified my top tasks for the next day, writing each post was a one of those tasks.
  2. Accountability – I had shared with a few key people in my life my commitment to completing this challenge.  I had in effect “shouted it from the rooftops” and there was no turning back!
  3. Routine – Because I had identified writing as a priority, I completed each post first thing in the morning.  Before checking email, before returning phone calls, before working on any upcoming presentations, before my first client appointments – writing was first.  On the mornings I had early appointments, I wrote the post the night before – and schedule a publish time the next morning.

So – to make completing this challenge possible, I had 3 separate structures in place, and I followed them.  For 31 days, success was mine!

What worked?  What didn't?

What worked? What didn’t?

Now, what didn’t work?  Let’s take a look at each structure separately.

  1. Priority – Creating interesting and knowledgeable blog posts last month was a priority to me.  But, once the new month started, writing each day wasn’t consciously on my radar.  I no longer had the urgency to start and finish a post by the end of the day.  So I didn’t.
  2. Accountability – Once the month had ended and I accomplished my goal, I didn’t create and share a new goal.  I had decided I was going to post roughly 3 times each week, but didn’t identify the dates, and didn’t share my goal with anyone.  I no longer had anyone I felt responsible to, so I put off writing.
  3. Routine –  This was the biggest factor.  Because the previous month I had identified writing as a priority, I created a plan detailing when I was going to complete each post – either the morning or the night before.  But, once the month ended, so did my routine.  Because I hadn’t determined which days I was going to write, I didn’t identify writing as one of my top tasks on any day, so I didn’t write.

What have I learned?

I’ve learned that my formula for success regarding creating a habit has 3 components.  I need to identify the new habit as a priority, I need to have some sort of external accountability, and I have to create a routine around completing the new task.  If I’m missing one of more of these components, the probability of success gets much lower.

I also learned that I CAN create a knowledgeable and interesting post each day (something I was certainly worried about!), but that I prefer to only devote the time to write 3 times each week – probably on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

Now that I’ve created some new awareness on what works for me – it’s time to apply this to other areas in my life where I am trying to create new habits.  I encourage you to check back often, as I’m determined to use my blog as a forum for external accountability.

What habit are you trying to create?  What are the keys to your success – priority, accountability, and routine?  Where have you had success in the past that you can build on as you create new habits?  I encourage you to post below!