In the next few months, many will attempt New Years Resolutions, gyms will be packed and many will try new diets. How do we keep these new habits? How do we not end up with an unused gym membership and diet books stacking up, gathering dust?  Don’t just bank on getting past 21 days on your new habit and hope to have it stick.

Most have heard that it takes 21 days to form a habit, but according to research published in The European Journal of Social Psychology this is a myth.  The myth seems to have originated in the 1960 book, Psycho-cybernetics, by Dr. Maxwell Maltz.  The plastic surgeon turned psychologist noted a 21-day time frame in which patients got used to their new face, amputations and the like.  He extended the idea to other things and said this is the amount of time to get used to a new home for example.  Somewhere along the line, this was translated into "a habit requires 21 days to form."

New research shows that there really isn’t a magical number for habit formation, with time spans ranging from 18 to 254 days for study participants and an average of 66 days. The study also found that the participants with the simplest habits (such as drinking water after breakfast) peaked quicker than those with more complex habits (such as running for ten minutes before dinner etc).

So the take home here is to not be discouraged if it doesn’t feel automatic by January 21st.  Don’t assign a number and don’t give up.  Also, push for realistic goals that you will be more prone to fulfilling.

More Tips for Success

  • If you haven’t run before, instead of declaring you will run for ten minutes, maybe attempt to build up to ten minutes over a few weeks.  Perhaps gradually cut out fast food instead of cutting it all out at once.  Take it slowly and perhaps you will fulfill your goal better.
  • Remember that there is a reason for this goal, whether it is for physical or mental health reasons, personal or professional reasons you name it.  If you remember what you are doing it for, it may push you towards completing it.
  • Research has shown that missing one day at the gym does not ruin the habit.  So don’t get discouraged and keep at it.
  • Enlist a friend with the same goal.  You may feel as if it’d be okay to skip the gym if it were just you, but you may not be so inclined to ditch her.  She may challenge you (and you her) and support you.
  • Remove any and all temptations.  Throw away all cigarettes and clear out the junk food from your house.  Conversely, if you are trying a form a good habit, such as taking a multivitamin, strategically place them next to cup by the sink so that you will see them daily.  Make the good habits accessible and the bad habits inaccessible.

Lastly, it may be hard and there will be rough patches, but keep at it.  Good luck and Happy New Year!

Citations

UCL: http://blogs.ucl.ac.uk/hbrc/2012/06/29/busting-the-21-days-habit-formation-myth/

How to Form a Good Habit: http://www.wikihow.com/Form-a-Good-Habit

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Comments

Totally agree on that it takes more than 21 days, especially on tasks/projects that are more complex. My personal experience is - the more uncomfortable you feel at the beginning, the more days its going to take for your brain to adapt. I tell my brain to accept the uncomfortable changes and myself that the major change will be worth it, somehow, at the same, the success feeling is greater!

So whether or not it 21 days to stop a [bad] habit, the post still brings great news! Worst case scenario, it takes 66 days! ...the only problem, is there is no reference to a study or where these numbers of days are coming from

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