Try Googling “how long to form a habit” and you’ll be amazed at the answers you see. 21 days, 30 days, 12 weeks, a year, a lifetime. The idea that habits are formed after 21 days has been around for years, but where did it come from?
Dr. Maxwell Maltz, an American cosmetic surgeon and author of Psycho-Cybernetics published in 1960, is often credited with this concept. In that book he stated, “It usually requires a minimum of about 21 days to effect any perceptible change in a mental image. Following plastic surgery it takes about 21 days for the average patient to get used to his new face. When an arm or leg is amputated the “phantom limb” persists for about 21 days. People must live in a new house for about three weeks before it begins to “seem like home”. These and many other commonly observed phenomena tend to show that it requires a minimum of about 21 days for an old mental image to dissolve and a new one to jell.” This quote from his best-selling book was taken as gospel and the 21-day myth was born.
The point of this article is not to determine how long it takes to form new habits, but to issue a challenge that if successful can only help in making our lives better. Think about a few positive changes you’d like to make in your life this year. It could be to stop smoking, eat healthier, start an exercise program, read more, learn to play an instrument, make more sales calls every day, meditate regularly, spend more time with your children and on and on ad infinitum. Pick your top three and then chose the one that is most important to you.
Now that you’ve decided, commit to spending the next 30 days doing whatever it is you’ve chosen. If it’s eating healthier, commit to cooking a different meal every day that is healthy for the next 30 days. If you want to get better at golf, commit to hitting balls at a range on a regular schedule for the next 30 days. More sales calls might mean making five additional calls each work day for the next four weeks. Whatever it is, commit to spending the next 30 days doing whatever that first change is you want to make.
It might be easy the first few days with the excitement of making this positive change, but inevitably your enthusiasm will wane and it may take more effort to continue. Commitment is the key word here. Stick with it for 30 days and at the end you may decide eating healthier, reading more, learning to draw, making more calls or upping your tennis game just isn’t worth the effort. Or you might love this new skill or habit and decide to continue with the effort to make it a part of your life.
Either way, make the decision to continue or the decision to quit and don’t beat yourself up over either choice. Go back to your list and choose the next change you’d like to make and commit to doing that for the next 30 days. Do this every 30 days for the next three to six months and at the end, no matter the changes you’ve made or haven’t made, you’re bound to be in a better place.
The University College London researched and experimented with the 21 day myth and learned how long changes take vary by individual. For one it took 18 days to form a new habit while another took 254 with the average being 66 days. 30 days of working on a new habit may not embed it completely into your life, but it should help you decide if it’s something you really want to continue doing. Be strong, be persistent and be happy you’ve committed to making changes and developing habits in your life that will make you a better person and perhaps more self-confident and energized.
I like this quote from Mahatma Gandhi on where good habits (or bad ones) lead: “Your beliefs become your thoughts, Your thoughts become your words, Your words become your actions, Your actions become your habits, Your habits become your values, Your values become your destiny.”
My first 30 day commitment is to read for at least a half-hour a day be it business or pleasure. How about you?