It Takes More Than 21 Days to Form a Habit


I wish that all it took to form a wonderful habit was repetition of the item for 21 days.  I have done plenty of things for more than 21 days and they did not become a habit.  If the 21 day rule were correct then I would be excellent at running, yoga, Pilates, and strength training.  If this were true, my diet would be exclusively Whole30 compliant.  If all it took for a habit to form was 21 days of doing something, I would be the world’s most efficient and hard-working person ever.  I would probably be a millionaire because of my amazing earnings, investment knowledge, and savings skills, not to mention that I would look great doing it all from my consistent health and fitness regime.

The saying that it takes 21 days to form a habit appears to have originated with a plastic surgeon in the 60s named Maxwell Maltz.  Maltz wrote a book titled, “Psycho-Cybernetics”.  In his book, he shared the knowledge that patients with a new nose or those who had lost a limb, took a minimum of 21 days to adjust to their new appearance.  A minimum of 21 days to adjust to a prosthetic limb is very different than, “it takes 21 days to form a new habit”.  Dr. Maltz’s findings became like the game of telephone we played in grade school, and over the years his findings were changed and possibly altered to something it was never intended to be.

A lot of research and studies have gone into how our behavior becomes habits.  Findings of studies featured in the “European Journal of Social Psychology” found that it took an average of 66 days for a behavior to become automatic.  Charles Duhig in his book, “The Power of Habit”, goes into further detail about how our habits come to be.  According to Charles, our habits are a part of a cycle or as he calls it a “habit loop”.  We have a cue, a routine that follows, and a reward.  Figuring out our cue and reward go a long way in deciphering why we act the way we do.  Charles suggests that we need to analyze what precedes a habit in order to figure out why certain cues encourage a particular behavior.   Our location, the time of day, emotional state, who we are around, and what we are doing in the moment can all impact our responses to certain actions aka habits.

Our health is in direct relation to all of our small and daily habits.  We don’t become fit and healthy in one day, it takes little actions repeated for an extended period of time.  We can all stand to benefit from learning more about how our habits come to be and the small decisions we make without even realizing it.  The truth is that changing our habits and behavior will most likely take more than 21 days.  Some habits will be easier to change than others.  The more we realize about how our minds work and process the information, the easier it is to change the things that are holding us back.

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