21 days and Counting
It is the third week of January a time where some New Year Resolutions begin to wane and frustration about keeping commitments to gym workouts, conscious eating, and spending quality time with friends and family begins to elevate itself. Adding to this frustration is that old adage that if you can just stick it out for 21 days you can create a new habit and at about this time that adage seems to be the enemy as well. The Good News is that the adage is a myth, so take a deep breath and move forward you still have time.
Yes, 21 days to create a habit is a popular myth that has survived a half century due to the many self-help authors, researchers, coaches, and speakers who have powerfully stated and wrote about the myth as a fact. Although it sounds inviting to actually change a life in 21 days in reality the research on forming habits indicates that it takes between 18-254 days (average was 66 days) to form a habit(Lally et.al. 2010). Naturally each person is unique in how and when a habit forms and if one misses a day or action it doesn’t nullify the ability to create the new habit – it is not a do or die situation, rather an evolutionary process .
Myths are sometimes hard to dispel yet, the 21 days change is attributed to Dr. Maxwell Maltz, a plastic surgeon, who in 1950 observed that it took his patients on average 21 days to feel comfortable with their new look or to become acclimated to losing a limb or whichever modification they went through. He wrote about his observations in a book that became a 1960 blockbuster, Psycho-Cybernetics, and those who came after decided to sell the observation as a fact. Interesting to note, Dr. Maltz never stated that one can change a habit in 21 days.
So, hold the course this year as you try to incorporate good habits into your daily routine, don’t get caught up in the numbers, know that you can miss a day and still create a positive habit, and be skeptical of what you hear and read. If there is one truth to 21 days and creating a habit, remember that you can’t reach 66 or 254 days unless you pass 21 time after time.
Don’t get discouraged, your habit forming number is within you – hang tough.