The 21-Day New Habit Myth Sets Us Up For Failure
Have you come across all the hype promising that habits can be created in 21 days? Who wouldn’t want to believe that we can experience a cosmic shift in only 21 days? It’s short enough to be inspiring and long enough to be believable.
Unfortunately it’s not true.
On average, it takes more than two months before a new behavior becomes automatic — 66 days to be exact.
In a study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, researchers examined the habits of 96 people over a 12-week period. Each person focused one new habit and reported each day on whether or not they did the behavior and how automatic the behavior felt.
Some people chose simple things like “drinking a bottle of water with lunch” while others chose more difficult tasks like “running for 15 minutes before dinner.” At the end of the 12 weeks, the researchers determined the length of time it took each person to go from implementing a new behavior to automatically doing it.
The researchers found that it takes anywhere from 18 to 254 days for people to form a new habit, depending on the habit they are creating, the person, and the circumstances.
This is great news! Why? Because how many times have you tried to start something new and after three weeks thought, “I’m such a failure” and fell right back into your old way of doing things?
The key to creating new habits is in the Why and the How. So let’s get to it!
How To Create Habits That Stick For Life
Choose Only One New Habit At A Time! — It’s hard enough to create one new habit. Trying to take on several at a time is doomed to fail.
Be Specific About What You Want To Create — Saying “I want to take better care of my teeth” is too vague. But, saying “I want to floss my teeth daily” is specific.
Get Clear On Your “Why” — “Because I ‘should'” is not a compelling reason. But saying, “I want to floss my teeth because stave off bone loss and it is proven to be heart healthy” is a compelling “why.”
Create A “How” — This is important and is very personal. Make it easier to succeed by creating a plan that suits your lifestyle. For instance, saying, “I am going to floss every day” is forgettable. But saying, “I am going to floss every evening when I brush my teeth before bed” gives it framework.
Implement Strategies To Keep You On Track — Another critical, and personal, component to successful habit formation is creating strategies that will work specifically for you. Some of my clients use post-it notes or set alarms on their phones, for example.
Do It Daily — It takes consistency and diligence. The good news is a mess-up here and there is fine. Stay diligent and don’t let your old way override your new habit!
So … what new habit do you want to create?