I was told that performing a task for 21 days in a row would turn it into a habit. Unfortunately, in researching for this trend I’ve found that this may not be true. The 21-day myth began as a misinterpretation of Dr. Maxwell Maltz’s work on self-image. He actually wrote “it requires a minimum of about 21 days for an old mental image to dissolve and a new one to jell.” In the decades that followed, Maltz’s work influenced many self-help books, people latched on to the idea of 21 days and the myth grew in popularity.
It appears that a good habit, in-fact, requires consistent commitment. As does breaking a bad habit. As marketers our role is to influence behaviour change, so we’re in a great position to help with both. Stoptober, originally a marketing idea from 23Red and Public Health England, has helped millions of people to stop smoking over the last four years. Building on this success PHE has developed One You – a campaign that encourages people to reappraise more of their lifestyle choices, and helps them to adopt new behaviours that put their health first (see case study below).
In the beginning behaviour change is easy, its new, we’re motivated. But beware, we’re in the honeymoon period. When inspiration fades and reality sets in, that’s when we need to fight through. The key to winning this fight is to recognise you’ve reached it. Bringing emotion into the equation will help: ‘How will I feel if I do/don’t do this?’ As will projecting into the future. When Aviva wanted more people to start planning for old age, rather than telling them what to do, they made an app that looked into the future. They were able to show customers what kind of life they would have at their current saving rate, thus prompting positive behaviour change in the present.
Once the habit kicks in we’ve made it, we’re in the flow. However, there are still a few interruptions that could send us back. Feeling discouraged or distracted by something new can steer us off course. Apps like Nike+ provide achievable trophies, leaderboards and social feeds to keep users motivated. Disruptions such as holidays or illness can get in the way too. Google’s new calendar feature Google Goals updates in real-time, adapting to missed classes or unforeseen appointments, making it easy to juggle life and achieve set ambitions.
Let’s make a resolution to recognise the real goals and ambitions of our customers. In doing this we can find a place as enablers and motivators, helping people form positive new habits this new year.