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New habit: How long does It take to create? The answer is not 21 days

TLDR;

It takes time to form a new habit. 21-days to form new habits is a myth and there is no one- size- fits- all time frame for forming new habits. So how long does it actually take to create a new habit?

This is a follow up to my post called, 4 STEPS TO CREATING NEW DAILY HABITS THAT WILL SET YOU UP FOR SUCCESS

You must have heard it countless times that it takes 21 days to form a new habit.

That’s kind of a weird idea though, isn’t it?

How did we even arrive at that specific number?

Well, let me tell you this; 21 days is a myth.

The “21-day myth” started when people misinterpreted Dr. Maxwell Maltz’s book on self-image.

Dr. Maxwell was a plastic surgeon and what he said that he observed it takes a minimum of 21 days on average for his patients to get used to the results of their new physical appearance.

Since the idea had a ring to it, popular media ran with the concept and people started applying the idea to all sorts of habit change scenarios.

Over time, people stripped out all the additional information from his book and condensed everything into one catchy idea: it takes 21 days to form a new habit.

21 days for a new habit is a myth. It all started when people misinterpreted Dr. Maxwell Maltz’s book on self-image

So how long does it actually take to create a new habit?

The answer is, you guessed it right…

It depends…

It depends on your mindset, and it depends on how big of a change you want to introduce.

If it is your habit to eat a piece of chocolate after dinner and you switch from regular to dark chocolate, you’ll probably make that a new habit in no time.    

However, completely giving up chocolate or other sugary food will take a little longer.

The real question here is how long you are willing to suffer till the new habit becomes a part of your life.

Is there a light at the end of the tunnel where you do not have to try so hard anymore?

In other words, when will this new behavior become automatic?

While it will be different from one person to the next and even from one habit to the next.

But there are a few things you can keep in mind to make the process smoother.  

So how long does it actually take to create a new habit? The answer is, it depends, and here’s why:

It’s easier to replace an old habit with a new HABIT than forming a completely new one

It’s much harder to form a new habit, but somewhat easier to replace an old one.  

In his book Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg talks about the concept of “habit loop”.

In his word, “The Habit Loop is a neurological loop that governs any habit. The habit loop consists of three elements: a cue, a routine, and a reward. Understanding these elements can help in understanding how to change bad habits or form better ones.”

Therefore, you need to work on identifying your cue, routine, and reward system rather than counting days.

For example, like most of us, I have the habit of checking my phone first thing in the morning and getting lost on social media feeds.

Though almost every productivity guru will tell you not to do that, you will agree that not checking your phone in the morning is a really hard thing to do.

So, instead of struggling with this habit, I changed the apps on my home screen from Instagram and Facebook to Vocabulary.com and Brilliant.

Since both these apps use gamification to teach, I get my dopamine hit, learn and few things, and spend a lot less time looking at the screen in the morning.

It’s much harder to form a new habit, but somewhat easier to replace an old one. Here’s why:

New habits will form faster if you make them easy to follow

When you are trying to form a new habit your brain will try everything in its power to talk you out of it. Your brain is an energy-saving machine, and it hates spending extra energy on anything new.

Therefore, make your choice so easy that it becomes obvious to your brain.

For example, a while back I realized that I am ordering out too much.

I will reason with myself that I am too tired, or too busy, or too hungry to cook.

So, I made the whole process easier by ordering all my groceries on Saturdays and then dividing them into portions.

I learned recipes that take 15 mins or less to cook.

So now, every time I feel like ordering food, I tell myself, “Look, the fastest you can get something delivered is in 30 minutes, but to cook a meal it will take only 15.”

And my brain obviously selects the option that appears to be easier.

New habits will form faster if you make them easy to follow.

Creating a sense of satisfaction makes forming new habits easier

Have a self-talk about why you are trying to form a new habit and then be mindful about how you feel after completing that task.

Almost 4 months into the lockdown I discovered that I am finding it difficult to handle the evenings. I will continue working through the evenings and when I finally shut down my laptop, I’ll feel very low.

So, I started blocking one hour, 6-7 PM in my calendar. I will close my laptop at 6, put on my headphones, and brisk walk for 30 minutes. I will come back home, take a shower, and complete the rest of my work.

Once I felt the change in my mood it became a habit that my brain looks forward to.

Even some of my colleagues in late calls said that I now sound as energetic as in the mornings.

Creating a sense of satisfaction makes forming new habits easier

Conclusion

It takes time to form new habits. 21-days is a myth and there is no one- size- fits- all time frame for forming new habits.  

It is not easy to deviate from what we are used to and introduce a change. And that is why we need to get creative and think of ways to make this process easier for ourselves.

We can do this by starting small, switching slowly, and using some of the techniques discussed in this post to help us with the process.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to what works best for us as individuals and what we are most comfortable with.

21 days for a new habit is a myth. It all started when people misinterpreted Dr. Maxwell Maltz’s book on self-image

You may also like:

4 STEPS TO CREATING NEW DAILY HABITS THAT WILL SET YOU UP FOR SUCCESS

FLOW STATE: THE SECRET BEHIND SUPERHUMAN PRODUCTIVITY AND HOW TO ACCESS IT AT WILL

FIND YOUR IKIGAI IN 5 SIMPLE STEPS: AN ACTION GUIDE TO MOTIVATION AND HAPPINESS

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