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Why Habits Aren't Always Formed in 21 Days


Why Habits Aren't Always Formed in 21 Days

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									Why Habits Aren't Always Formed in 21 Days

Most of us have heard that it takes about 21 days to
form a habit (or possibly 28 or 30). According to the
University College London, the process actually
takes a lot longer and the 21 days idea is based on
anecdotal evidence.
The initial 21 days idea is thought to have come
from Maxwell Maltz's self-help book, Psycho
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.
So, what does the above quote have to do with habit
forming? Not much, really. If it is the basis for the
21 day habit forming idea then it's based on an
observation that doesn't really deal with forming
habits. Still, it's obvious why the idea caught on: 21
days sounds like a feasible achievement.
Unfortunately, as the UCL blog points out, at least
one habit forming study shows that most habits take
a lot longer to form. They're also very dependent on
the person and the habit in question:
It may be that some behaviours are more suited to
habit formation – habit strength for simple
behaviours (such as drinking a glass of water)
peaked quicker than for more complex behaviours
(e.g. doing 50 sit-ups) – or that people differ in how
quickly they can form habits, and how strong those
habits can become.
What's the magic number then? The study showed it
was 66 days on average, but it's different for
everyone and depends on how difficult a habit is to
create (or break). Thankfully, as Psychology Today
points out, missing a day across those 66 days isn't a
terrible thing:
The study also showed that if you miss a day here or
there when you're trying to develop a habit, it doesn't
derail the process, so don't get discouraged if you
can't keep a perfect track record. But the first days
seem to make the biggest difference, so it's worth
trying to be particularly diligent at the beginning of
the attempted-habit-acquisition process.
While the research done at UCL was relatively small
(just 96 participants) it was at least based on a study
and not just an observation of patients. To truly form
a habit you have to get to the point where it's
automatic and you don't think about it. For small
things, 21 days might be the perfect amount, but for
something more complex it can take a lot longer.
The lesson is to not give up after 21 days if
something doesn't feel like it's sticking. Forming a
habit might take a lot longer than that.

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