Some habits are easier to form than others. I think we can all get on the same page with that. But did you know that most habits actually don’t take 21 days to form? They actually take longer than that. Let’s break down how long it takes to form a habit.
If asked how long it takes to form a habit, many people will respond “21 days.” This idea can be traced back to “Psycho-Cybernetics,” a book published in 1960 by Dr. Maxwell Maltz. Maltz didn’t make this claim but rather referenced this number as an observable metric in both himself and his patients at this time. His book sold 30 million copies in a short amount of time so the number just kind of stuck.
The idea that it takes 21 days for form a habit isn’t a total crock–the 21 day mark just the beginning. At the 21 day mark is when gamma peaks form in the brain. Basically, these are the starting of forming the habit. If the task in which you are trying to create the habit doesn’t keep on the same trajectory then the gamma peaks will flat line. This is why the 21 days is important but the consistency can’t stop here. They are important for new connections to occur to really link the habit in place.
The peaks don’t actually get strong until 42 more days after the 21 day mark bringing us to a habit forming at the 9 weeks.
What happens to a lot of us (and why we give up too early) is that we don’t ‘feel’ the results yet. We don’t feel like the new habit is habitual so we kind of just stop. This is particularly true if you are trying to break a bad habit that is more a mental challenge than anything else. Research shows that your non-conscious mind and your body know before what is going on before you do, so the changes will happen in your brain before you consciously know it. This is where the phrase “trust the process” comes in. Some say that the 66 mark is when the habit will start to feel a bit more natural and something you don’t have to think about doing.
While 21 days it definitely worth noting as it marks an important step for forming a new habit, a full nine weeks might serve you better for certain habits as it is the key to making sustainable change. If you are looking to introduce a new part of your routine into your life or, maybe better yet, letting go of something that no longer serves you keep at it. Don’t feel defeated if it’s not smooth sailing by week 3 or our defined 21 days, it just may just take a little more time for the new habit to stick. Keep pushing on to 9 weeks.
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