27 September 2009

Numbers and Habits

Via Mind Hacks, I came across an article discussing how long it takes to form a habit. In part, it depends on the type of activity, but overall the results are fairly consistent. There's a fairly rapid increase of habitualness at the beginning which then levels off, and the average time to level off is 66 days. After that, the habit is as set as it is ever going to be.

This interests me partly because my practice has now become such an ingrained habit that it would not occur to me not to do it ... unless there were some physical constraint preventing it. I started with the relatively arbitrary figure of 36 days. It's significant in Chinese thought, and, to be honest, I'm not sure why. I know that traditionally the Chinese listed 6 major organs and 6 something else, and multiplying those results in 36, but I have no idea what, exactly it's supposed to mean. I also know that Cheng Man Ch'ing consistently arrived at 36 moves when counting the moves in the form, but that his labeling was not necessarily consistent beyond the figure 36. It was a number, that's all. A very minor habit might be established after only 36 days. I don't think my practice was.

My other benchmark has been 108 days, and that's well into the level part of the habituation curve. I'm not sure it was completely established then, either, but it had come closer. There were still times when I would actively resent that I couldn't just go to bed, that I still had to do the practice. Now when that happens, I'm mainly irritated with myself for not getting it done sooner, not with the practice itself.

As a point of interest, there's a traditional Chinese idea (at least, Don tells me it's traditional and Chinese) of "the practice of 100 days." In essence, you try something out for 100 days and see what you think of it at that point. If it's something you're capable of establishing as a habit, that will most likely be enough according to the research at the link. If by the end of 100 days, it hasn't become a habit, it's likely that it never will. This isn't the rationale given in the traditional idea, but I think maybe there's a connection.

And now I'll stop rambling.

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