How Long Should a Change Really Take?

Firstly, I want to elaborate on my use of the word ‘should’.

As coaches, we are trained to be weary of the ‘s’ word, as it puts mental pressure on the person, whether that’s ourselves we are telling that we ‘should’ be, do or achieve something – or indeed, somebody else.

It’s something that we pick up from previous generations, all these rules and shoulds:

“Blue and green should never be seen”

“You should always wear clean underwear in case you end up in hospital.”

It’s something society trains us to tell ourselves:

“I should have a baby before I turn 35, if I’m going to have one.”

“I should go to University even though Entrepreneurship is calling me.”

It’s something we say to each other too.

“You should try this diet.”

“You should apply for that job.”

I’d say that it’s not always bad, and often it comes from a good place. But I want to point out the ‘should’ in the title, as this idea of making a change in our lives comes with a fair bit of pressure already, even before you add a time-bound aspect to it.

But I chose this title because it’s something that people often ask. If they don’t make a change overnight, they tell themselves they are failing. But then again, an overnight change isn’t realistic. So how can we win this impossible battle?

As with almost everything in life, it calls for some common sense and a bit of good old strategy. So let’s start by getting realistic about how long changes – real, sustainable changes that stick – really take to make, without causing you to crack under the pressure!


First, the science

There are numerous theories out there, grounded in neuroscience, about how long it takes us to learn a new habit. Study results typically range from 21 days to 6 weeks.

Now there are two things to keep in mind here. One is that study participant groups are rarely that large and/or diverse, meaning that these people who kindly participate in studies often aren’t very representative of humans across the gamut.

In fact, they are often PhD students supporting their fellow PhD students. So these guys are likely a bit younger than you or I, and perhaps not under the same stress as an Entrepreneur, parent or CEO, just for a few examples.

The other thing to consider is that while your life is different to those of the study participants, so is everything else about you that could be – your DNA, your medical history, and every variable you could possibly think of.

I’m saying this to make the point that, although these ‘general rules of thumb’ are great as guidelines, we shouldn’t take them as Gospel or berate ourselves if we take a little longer.

When I’m working with clients I like to aim for a period of 4 weeks to make a reasonable amount of change, but that does depend on many factors, and it is a personalised experience for each person. I chose 4 weeks, as a month is an easy period of time to break down into small, strategic steps. It’s not a terrifyingly, white-knuckle-ride-like, fast paced change. Nor is it so slow that the client feels no benefits or progress.

But when all is said and done, 4 weeks is a guide, not a rule.


Next, the soul

Having covered the science of change, let’s look at the soul or spiritual angle too.

A change not only needs to be planned strategically over a realistic time period, but it has to be wanted too – and I mean REALLY wanted by the client.

And let’s welcome back our old friend, ‘should’. Have you ever tried to make a change just because you thought that you should? Quitting smoking is a great example. If something moves you, like seeing a friend becoming ill from smoking, then that kind of soul-led change will be made because it feels right.

Sure, you will need time and a strategy too, such as nicotine replacement or hypnosis, but it’s very do-able. But if your only motivation is that you ‘should’ quit… If you’ve tried then you already know how that ends!

Looking at change from a soul-led angle is a great way to tell if the change will happen or not. So if you’ve been trying to change something for a while – a career path, a relationship, a bad habit – then ask yourself if that change is really what you want.

If it truly is what your soul wants, then you just need to stop beating yourself up, be realistic and use small, strategic steps over a sensible period of time. But if the change doesn’t fire up your soul, then perhaps it is time to reassess why you have been pushing yourself in a direction you didn’t really want to go.

Was it a ‘should’?

If you would like to work on your own change with 4 weeks of little steps as a guide, then I have a planner you can download. Head over to my Facebook group, Life, Love, Food & other stuff, where you will find the link to download it straight from Google Drive, no email required.


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