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Why the 2-Day Rule Could Be the Key to Building New Habits

Simple and realistic, the two-day rule is a great way to introduce new behaviours into your life. Here’s how to get started.


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Introducing new habits to your life at the start of the year may sound like a good idea, but getting those behaviours to stick past the end of January can prove a little tricky. Whether you want to drink more water, eat more plants or get up a little earlier, introducing new behaviours to your life takes time – 66 days, on average – and determination.

But just because building new habits isn’t as simple as we’d all like it to be, it doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to make introducing new behaviours to your life more achievable.

One of the simplest and most realistic of these methods is the two-day rule. Created by the filmmaker Matt D’Avella, the technique has become a staple in many people’s productivity toolkits – and for good reason.  

If you’ve never heard of the two-day rule before, the name itself is fairly self-explanatory. It taps into research that shows that when you’re trying to introduce a new behaviour or routine to your life, missing one day doesn’t significantly impact the formation of a habit.

With this in mind, the two-day rule simply involves not allowing yourself to skip a new habit for two days in a row. So, if you skipped going to the gym or reading for 30 minutes one day, you’d pick it back up the next. Everyone has their off days, and the two-day rule allows you to have those while also making a change. It’s kind of a win-win, right?

According to chartered psychologist Catherine Hallissey, who uses the two-day rule to help her clients make positive changes, the technique is so effective because it supports a more realistic approach to behavioural changes. 


“Habits are simply behaviours we repeat consistently, but there is no requirement to repeat them perfectly,” she explains. “The two-day rule reflects this and helps people stay away from the all-or-nothing approach that is frequently associated with new year’s resolutions.

“Anyone who has tried to change their behaviour is likely familiar with the feeling of missing one day and wanting to throw in the towel. The two-day rule makes it easier to get back on track as there is a margin for error built into the behaviour change system.”

The sense of accountability associated with the two-day rule also adds to its effectiveness, adds Kate Oliver, chartered psychologist and author of Rise And Shine – How To Transform Your Life, Morning By Morning.  

Habits are simply behaviours we repeat consistently, but there is no requirement to repeat them perfectly.

“The two-day rule works to build habits by creating accountability for your actions – the commitment to practise the behaviour regularly; an element of choice and flexibility (so you can plan to have certain days ‘off’ (for example, not going to the gym on a Sunday morning); and the consistency to practise the new behaviour at least every other day (and ideally more often),” she explains. 

“Because ultimately, regular practice is what builds new habits.”

Oliver adds that the logic behind the two-day rule is kind of like forging a path across a field. When you first try to take a new path you’ll likely be wading through thick grass, but over time, the grass will wear away and you’ll be left with a clear path to walk through.  

In the same way, habit formation is all about doing the same thing over and over again until, over time, it becomes easier and more automatic.

“This is essentially what happens in your brain as you start to make different choices,” she adds. “New neural pathways become stronger and old ones weaken. So, you need to keep walking the new path so you don’t allow the grass to regrow – that’s what the two-day rule is really about.” 


3 techniques for building new habits

If the two-day rule doesn’t work for you – or if you want to have more tools in your habit-forming tool belt, check out these habit-forming tips from the experts. 

1. Remove unnecessary barriers

When you’re trying to introduce a new behaviour to your life, the last thing you want is to make things harder for yourself. With this in mind, removing as many barriers as possible between you and your desired behaviour is a good place to start.

“When thinking about how to build habits, the first step is to simplify the process and remove as many barriers as possible,” Hallissey says. “For example, if you want to go swimming every day, keep your bag packed and have a set time to go – that way you won’t be left wondering when you’ll go to the pool or where to find your kit.” 

2. Make it part of your morning routine

Introducing a new behaviour in the morning is a great way to set yourself up for the day ahead and avoid the distractions of day-to-day life.

“One of the best ways to build new habits is through your morning routine,” Oliver says. “Our willpower is strongest when we first wake up (it is a finite resource that declines through the day as we use it), and research shows that our morning mood tends to grow throughout the day. 

“So, if we can start our days right, by achieving something that makes us feel good about ourselves and the day ahead, we build our confidence and motivation for the other things we will face during the day ahead.” 

Oliver continues: “The best way to build habits is step by step, day by day – and the mornings are a great time to do this because you can carve out some time to focus on you and the changes you want to make before you get pulled into the demands of your day.

“In Rise And Shine, we share lots of simple, easy-to-use tips and techniques on how you can build new habits, using the SHINE method.”

3. Introduce some fun

Building new habits shouldn’t feel like a chore – and giving yourself something to look forward to as you complete your daily routine will make it easier to stay motivated.

“If you can make it more fun, you’ll make it even more likely that you’ll keep the habit,” Hallissey explains. “For example, if you arrange to meet a friend at the gym you’re more likely to keep your commitment, as you’re looking forward to spending time with your friend.” 

Images: Getty

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This post originally appeared on Stylist and was published March 22, 2022. This article is republished here with permission.

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