Just by my title you can tell I’m a bit annoyed by this right? If it wasn’t obvious before I am! I’m irritated and frustrated of the idea that is constantly being preached that it takes 21 days to form a habit, when it couldn’t be the furthest thing from the truth. It’s simply another dangerous cliché that has been popularized by so many success teachings throughout the years, which has caught on (though never actually tested by those preaching it for validity). However, just because it’s popular doesn’t make it true.
Why the idea of 21 days to form a habit hurts you than helps you
The main reason is it creates false expectations. It creates the delusion that if you work at something consistently for 21 days in an effort to create a positive habit, that by day 21 it should be so much a part of you that you don’t even have to think about it anymore. People often confuse a daily routine (something that has become normal for you to do daily), with habit (something that you do even when you’re unaware you’re doing it). What this does is when you get to day 21 and realize you’re still struggling to perform this routine effortless, you become discourage, disappointed, start to believe it’s you, and then you quit (which is one reason why most people after week 2 or 3 give up).
Now picture this endless cycle of you picking up a new habit to form, working on it for 21 days, it doesn’t create or cement the habit, then you quit to try something else, only to end up with the same disappointing results. After a while you begin to think it’s pointless to even try anything new because you always fail at it, then you label yourself a ‘failure’, and one can only imagine what that then does to your self-image and self-esteem! *SIGH* (now you understand my irritation). This idea leaves you believing that something is wrong with you, and keeps you from truly creating the change you desire to see in yourself and your life. It’s hard enough you have to fight the negative voices, both internally and externally, telling you that you aren’t good enough and you can’t do it. Now you have to deal with misinformation causing you to feel less worthy, when in truth you are a person of power and incredible potential.
There’s nothing that hurts me more than when I see someone who has immense power and potential hidden within them, feel a sense of hopelessness and helplessness, because they think it’s pointless to even try anymore. What’s even worse is when this sense of unworthiness is not caused by you, but by those who give you false expectations of what it really takes to develop a habit (or succeed).
If anyone tells you that they can help you get any sort of lasting results in 21 days RUN! They’re only trying to sell you, not help you!
The TRUTH about Positive Habit Formation
In reality it doesn’t take days to form a habit, but actually months! Every habit you have, good or bad, has been formed over months and even years of consistent repetition of a particular routine or action. Then it becomes so much a part of you that you don’t even think about it anymore.
Well how do you know when the habit is formed?
The reality is you can tell when a habit has been truly formed when ‘Automaticity’ occurs. This means that the routine/action/behaviour gets to a level where it requires little mental focus or intentionality in performing. It becomes so effortless and so much a part of your daily routine that you aren’t aware that you’re doing it anymore…at least not consciously.
As I’m writing this article (written August 2016) I’m almost 60 days into my workout routine (that’s almost 3 times the 21 day rule), missing only 5 days, 1 of which was due to me traveling. I can tell you I am nowhere near my working out being a habit! It’s still a struggle to get it done some days, and I still have to use certain techniques to pull my brain and body into action. Most days I don’t feel like doing it, most days I feel lazy, most days I’m tired, and most days I can’t be bothered. The only difference now is that because I’ve been doing it long enough, the struggle to get it done isn’t as difficult as when I first started because I’ve trained my brain to do it even when I don’t feel like it.
My goal is to help you train your brain and develop that same conditioning where you do it beyond the initial excitement, and remain consistent towards achieving your goals.
Not only have I tested this for myself in my own life, but there is actual scientific research to back this up (for those who like data and research).
In 2009 the European Journal of Social Psychology published a scientific research done where they had 96 volunteers (30 men and 66 women, between the ages 21-45), select 3 types of behaviours: eating, drinking, and exercising. 27 chose an eating behaviour, 31 chose a drinking behaviour (mostly water), 34 an exercise behaviour, and 4 a miscellaneous behaviour such as meditation. The objective was to investigate the process of habit formation in everyday life over an 84 day period (approximately 3 months). These activities had to be something that 1). They did not already do, 2). Could be performed in response to a daily triggering event, and 3). The Triggering event had to only happen once per day.
Learn more about Triggers and also how you can stay consistent and develop better habits by watching the video on the S.T.A.R.S. TechniqueTM.
The results of the study were as followed:
14 dropped out of the study by day 60, leaving 82 participants
Of the 82 remaining only 39 (48%) developed some level of Automaticity or slight habit formation (which means after 84 days more than half had still not developed any level of habit formation)
It took a median of 66 days before majority of the group reached Automaticity, meaning that some people achieved it before then, some after, but majority did so by day 66
The study shows it took some as long as 254 days (or almost 9 months) to reach Automaticity
I’ll put a link at the end of the article so you can view the full study and results for yourself, and download the findings of the research in PDF form.
Let me let you guys in on a little secret to help you. If you still have to be thinking about doing it, reminding yourself to do it, pushing yourself to do it…then it ain’t a habit!
Don’t buy into success clichés unless you’ve tested them for yourself, and validated the claim…even if it’s coming from me. This is why I give step-by-step actionable techniques and strategies, so you have a framework to test them in your own life, and see the results you get from them (with consistent implementation of course).
So to wrap up remember it takes months to form a habit, not 21 days! The sooner you can get and understand this concept the easier it will be for you to stick with your activity towards your goals. This is because you now have the right expectation of what it will take to form your new, desirable habit.
Don’t focus on how long it’s taking. Instead focus on the amazing person you are becoming in the process.
Next Action Step
If you have a particular habit you want to develop then the first thing to do is:
Set the proper expectation for yourself, understand that the process to developing a new habit will take a minimum 90 days so mentally prepare yourself to do the work, and verbally commit to it
Take small simple actions daily towards your goal for at least 30 days consistently (make a dedicated effort to remain consistent especially for the first 7-10 days). As I’ve mentioned before if you can stay consistent for at least 30 days, it’s more likely you’ll stay consistent for 90 days because you’ve developed momentum
Don’t focus on trying to develop the habit (that will happen automatically if you stick with it), just focus on never missing a day, or missing as little days as possible in a week (I recommend no less than 5 days)
Again watch the video on the S.T.A.R.S. TechniqueTM that will give you a step-by-step actionable breakdown on how to approach the daily effort of taking action and staying consistent
The more strenuous and difficult the routine or activity (that is the more mental, physical, and emotional effort required to execute the routine), the longer it will take to form into a habit
It’s important in forming a habit to try and never miss a day within the initial 30 day execution. This is important in not only forming the habit, but to form an Identity of Consistency that will help you to remain consistent towards your goals
If you miss a day get back into action no later than the following day, this will ensure the overall process of forming the new habit isn’t affected
The more days missed in a row, the more difficult it will be to get back on track towards consistency
Click for E.J.S.P. research findings. I will admit it’s a bit of a challenge to follow with the science jargons, graphs and math equations, but if you can get pass that you will find tremendous value in it.
To your success my friend!
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