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Myth: it takes 21 days to form a habit.

Updated: Jun 11, 2020

After repeatedly receiving the same request from clients to offer a more long-term program and retreats, I began doing a lot of research on habits. I examined how we form them, how long it takes, and how we make them stick.

I was shocked to learn the truth behind them.

We’ve all heard some rendition of, “ its takes 21 days to form a habit.” However, do you know the history and actual truth behind it?

In 1950, Maxwell Maltz a plastic surgeon, found that it would take a patient about 21 days to become accustomed to seeing their new face.

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 gel.”

In 1960, Maltz published this quote and his other thoughts on behavior change in a book called, Psycho-Cybernetics . The book became a blockbuster hit, selling more than 30 million copies.

And as more people recited Maltz's story people began to forget that he said, “a minimum of about 21 days.” This was shortened it to, “it takes 21 days to form a new habit.” That’s how society began spreading the common myth that it takes 21 days to form a new habit.

Phillippa Lally, a health psychology researcher at University College London, and her research team decided to uncover just how long it actually takes to form a habit.

In a study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, Lally her colleagues found that on average it takes more than two months before a new behavior becomes automatic, 66 days to be exact. 

Note: Habit formation varies widely, depending on the behavior, the person, and the circumstances. In Lally's study, it took anywhere from 18 to 254 days for people to form a new habit. 

The truth is, if you want to set your expectations appropriately: it will probably take you anywhere from two months to eight months to build a new behavior into your life, not 21 days.

Trying to develop a mediation practice? Awesome!

My biggest tip is to incorporate the new habit into one you have already established. A lot of my clients workout in the morning and meditate in their gym after their workout and before children can interrupt their morning. Maybe you have a commute and can hold a 10 minute practice on the bus/train ride in.

Interestingly, the researchers also found that, “missing one opportunity to perform the behavior did not materially affect the habit formation process.” In other words, it doesn’t matter if you make mistakes every now and then.

Building better habits is not an all-or-nothing process.

I love my four-week programs and the fact they jumpstart you to more productivity and give you a base line understanding of mindfulness tools and techniques. However, the reason I’ve created my Mindful Membership is because of the need for consistent support to actually create lasting change.

Join us, every month we focus on a new professional skill, which builds upon each other to not only enrich your professional skillset but create a lasting habit.


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