I think I know why old habits die hard.
It's because habits, real habits, are made of stronger stuff than we imagine. They come from years of practice, whether intentional or not, and they represent the baseline of our actions. The only thing harder than breaking old habits, I think, is creating new ones.
There have been many habits in my life that I've tried to break, with varying degrees of success. Popular thought says that it takes 21 days to form or break a habit, but this is based in a misinterpretation of an old study regarding plastic surgery and prosthetics. In reality, subsequent studies of this specific topic have shown a wide range of time required, from 2 to 8 months.
A longer timeline certainly makes sense to me, given that I spent 30 days doing yoga in January and almost immediately dropped it when the month changed.
The problem with a longer timeline is that it doesn't inspire the same kind of optimism as a three week challenge. I can reasonably expect to make myself get out of bed at 5 a.m. for the next three weeks, but to say that it will take six months before it feels comfortable is far more daunting.
We want to establish a "habit" so that these things become second nature. In essence, so that they become easy.
But the great things are not supposed to be easy. Yes, it'd be nice if they were, but this is the real world, where the things we want most have to be earned. I'm at two days in a row of waking up on time, and last night in particular, I was exhausted. After one day.
And yet, I still managed to get up today. I did some yoga, my second time since the end of January. It wasn't habit, certainly not automatic. It was a very specific, very determined choice.
And honestly, I'm happier with that.