My life today is essentially the sum of my habits.
How in shape or out of shape I am? A result of my habits.
How happy or unhappy I am? A result of my habits.
How successful or unsuccessful I am? A result of my habits.
It is true that what you repeatedly do (i.e. what you spend time thinking about and doing each day) ultimately forms the person you are, the things you believe, and the personality that you portray.
But I want to improve. I want to form new habits. How do I go about it?
How do you form new habits?
Bad habits are easy to form and hard to end. On the other hand, good habits take more time.
A lot of people (including some experts) believe that it takes 21days to form a new habit. I used to believe this before, but I found that it took longer than 21 days to form and keep new habits. And then I stumbled on the story of how the 21-day myth began:
Maxwell Maltz was a plastic surgeon in the 1950s when he began noticing a strange pattern among his patients.
When Dr. Maltz would perform an operation — like a nose job, for example — he found that it would take the patient about 21 days to get used to seeing their new face. Similarly, when a patient had an arm or a leg amputated, Maltz noticed that the patient would sense a phantom limb for about 21 days before adjusting to the new situation.
These experiences prompted Maltz to think about his own adjustment period to changes and new behaviors, and he noticed that it also took himself about 21 days to form a new habit. Maltz wrote about these experiences and said, “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.”
In 1960, Maltz published that quote and his other thoughts on behavior change in a book called Psycho-Cybernetics (audiobook). The book went on to become a blockbuster hit, selling more than 30 million copies.
And that’s when the problem started.
You see, in the decades that followed, Maltz’s work influenced nearly every major “self-help” professional from Zig Ziglar to Brian Tracy to Tony Robbins. And as more people recited Maltz’s story — like a very long game of “Telephone” — people began to forget that he said “a minimum of about 21 days” and shortened it to, “It takes 21 days to form a new habit.”
And that’s how society started spreading the common myth that it takes 21 days to form a new habit (or 30 days or some other magic number). It’s remarkable how often these timelines are quoted as statistical facts.
Dangerous lesson: If enough people say something enough times, then everyone else starts to believe it.
It makes sense why the “21 Days” Myth would spread. It’s easy to understand. The time frame is short enough to be inspiring but long enough to be believable. And who wouldn’t like the idea of changing your life in just three weeks?
But the problem is that Maltz was simply observing what was going on around him and wasn’t making a statement of fact. Furthermore, he made sure to say that this was the minimum amount of time needed to adapt to a new change.
So what’s the real answer? How long does it actually take to form a new habit?
I don’t know. But until I research and know the answer, I’ll like to say that consistency is key. Doing one thing over and over again until it becomes an automatic behavior, something we do without thinking or much willpower.
And that’s the secret to forming a new habit.
Make a list of the new habits you want to form, (the simpler and easier to do the better),
Set rewards and triggers.
And get committed to doing it until it becomes an integral part of you.