How long does it actually take to form a habit? There is research that suggests that it takes three weeks (21 days) to form a new way of doing things.
A Forbes article suggests that this is an oversimplification of research outlining the way we rework the way we act. The article lays out several phases to the process:
1. The Honeymoon Phase
We get inspired by something, perhaps a conference or a wise friend. Maybe a life event forces us to reconsider our direction.
2. The Struggle Phase
We lose momentum and begin to question our new direction. Obstacles present themselves. If we manage to push through a couple of obstacles in our path, we grow in our resolve. (Of course, the opposite also happens if we regress).
These struggles take several forms:
1. Discouragement: Thinking you can’t continue, possibly because you have yet failed to see positive effects of the change.
2. Disruptions: Habit-forming is all about routine. Even a three-day weekend can set you off course.
3. Seeming Success: Claiming success too early is the temptation to let your guard down. Inevitably, disaster strikes!
After these two phases, a new habit is formed. Perhaps this does take three weeks, not in virtue of itself but because of the course life takes. In order to cement our new habit, we have to encounter obstacles – and even they have a day job.
What do the arts have to say about all this? According to Playbill Magazine, Broadway shows typically rehearse for three to six weeks, depending on the size of the production. The rules about actor attendance are very strict, perhaps because of this principle of habit forming.
While a show is actually a combination of many habits more than just one habit (dance routines, musical numbers, lines, and blocking), these are all happening simultaneously as the play or musical takes shape.
As in acting, so also in acting well.
The actors begin rehearsals with great zeal and passion for the work ahead of them. Shortly thereafter, hurdles present themselves: missed ques, forgotten lines. Similarly, discouragement, disruptions, and seductions of fame and success all present obstacles.
Why not, as ethics inform the arts, can the arts not inform ethics? Rehearsing good behaviors and visualizing a successful performance can help you to overcome immediate obstacles and form lasting virtue.