President’s Message – January 2020

Happy New Year! I’m excited about 2020 for a couple of reasons. For one, it’s nice to have a decade that’s easier to talk about. “The twenties” is so much easier than either “the aughts” or the “the tens (or teens)”. The second and bigger reason is that January 1, 2020 marks the twentieth anniversary of Chalice’s official founding. Celebrations are forthcoming. More on this later.

Today, I noticed that I’ve practiced Spanish using a popular internet app called Duolingo for 888 days straight! This got me thinking about habits and the formation of habits, a.k.a., New Year’s resolutions. I’ve just spent some time researching the state of the art in habit formation on the internet. Here’s my report.

In Yoga and Ayurvedic medicine as well as pop-culture self-help, I’ve heard that habit changing takes 21 continuous days of repetition to form a new habit – but I’ve always had my doubts about such a simplistic promise.

For example, developing bad habits can take far less time. If you have a delicious breakfast pastry with your tea or coffee two days in a row, by the third day that pastry is annoyingly tempting. On the other hand, quitting an addictive behavior, like smoking or drinking, in 21 days is not at all likely.

In fact, a recent study at University College London and published in the European Journal of Social Psychology explores this topic. This paper claims that, on average, 66 days before participants reported that the behavior had become “unchangingly automatic”. Of course, taking an average of the required time to change a habit is ridiculous, since it really depends on the nature of the habit, the person and the circumstances. The range of days to habit formation for the group studied was 18 to 254 days.

The study also found that the rule of not missing a day is not true and, in fact, not helpful.

There’s not room here to get into the weeds on all this but if you want more information check out the article.

The bottom line is, don’t attach yourself to how long it takes to change a particular habit. Focus instead, on the art and process of habit changing itself. Embrace the fact that habits are processes, not events, and don’t worry about longer timelines. RRelax into the process and don’t worry so much about the habit change goal. There’s some Zen in this somewhere.

During my 888 days of Duolingo, my approach and attitude toward the act of learning Spanish has changed substantially. It started as a daily chore, then changed into a habit I tolerated and finally into a habit I look forward to. At this point, I’m not sure learning Spanish is as much the goal as is my daily quiet time with Duolingo.

During a recent Sunday service, Tim played a piece by Irving Berlin titled “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep.” If you use something like sheep counting to fall asleep at night, try changing the habit to listing all the things you are grateful for. In Yoga this sort of active gratitude is known as heart opening and it works to change how signals are transmitted between neurons in our brain. See How Brain Patterns Help Habits form.

That’s my report. Consider making a habit of habit changing a goal for the new year.

For those of you who are reading this on paper here are the web addresses of the links in the article:

Duolingo – courses

How Brain Patterns Help Habits form – releases/2018/02/180208120923.htm