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Want to form some positive habits? Research shows Lent is a great kick-starter

Woman Praying rosary
By LightField Studios | Shutterstock

A study has shown that it doesn’t take that long for a habit to become second nature.

Many of us will be using Lent as a time to examine and deepen their spiritual lives — maybe by changing our prayer habits, putting others first more often, or resisting daily temptations. During this time of reflection we might come up with a “spiritual to-do list” that will hopefully lead to a meaningful Lenten season. Yet, science shows that positive habits that begin during Lent will become second nature not long after those 40 days.

A post by James Clear discusses a study carried out by health psychologist, Phillippa Lally at University College London, which found that on average it takes people just 66 days to form a habit — that’s just 26 extra days of effort after Lent.

The study, published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, looked at the behavioral habits of 96 participants. The group was asked to select a new habit to perform each day over a 12-week period. They were asked to note each day if they carried out the habit and to what extent it was automatic.

The new habits were based on an activity, or a drinking or eating behavior that would be carried out at a consistent time during the study period. Somebody might choose to drink only water with lunch for example, or go for a run before a meal.

The researchers looked at the data after 12 weeks and could tell that it took on average 66 days to adopt a new habit. While some participants felt their new behavior came automatically after only 18 days, it took others as many as 254 days.

Although it depends on the individual, the type of new habit, and the circumstances, chances are if you’ve adopted a new habit during Lent, the 40 days will have some serious effect on your ability to keep it up after the Lenten season.

Even more interestingly, the study found “missing one opportunity to perform the behavior did not materially affect the habit formation process.” That’s comforting news for those who have the odd slip up!

So whether you’ve decided to say a Rosary when you wake up, or to help an elderly neighbor once a week, chances are that if you’ve kept it up during Lent, you’ll be forming a habit that can last a lifetime.

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