Does It Really Take 21 Days
To Create A New Habit?
Whenever you hear someone talk about trying something new or quitting a behaviour, it's pretty common to hear people talk about how they are trying to do it for at least 21 days to form a new habit.
The idea here is that the task should get easier after that.
Is this true?
The 21 days to a new habit myth likely comes from a book published by Dr. Maxwell Maltz in 1960, where he noticed a trend of people adapting to new transitions in their life.
Dr. Maltz was a plastic surgeon and noticed that when he would complete a reconstructive surgery for someone, it would appear to take about 21 days for the patient to adapt to the change.
He also made other observations, such as noticing that amputees took an average of 21 days to recover from the loss of a limb.
While this finding certainly speaks highly of the amputees he observed, it's a qualitatively different task to attempt to change a habit such as quitting smoking, eating healthier, etc.
Tally et al. (2009) decided to take a closer look at the "how many days to change a habit" equation in the European Journal of Social Psychology.
In their study, researchers asked participants who were interested in forming a new habit (e.g., going for a 15 minute run each day, etc.) to assess how automatic it felt to engage in the new behaviour they were attempting to make into a habit.
Results showed that on average, by day 66, the new behaviour was going to become as much of a habit as it was going to be.
Overall, results ranged from 18-254 days with simpler habits being achieved more quickly and complicated habits taking more time.
When looking to change a behaviour or establish a new habit, 66 days is the sweet spot on average. If you miss a single day, here or there, research is on your side, as there doesn't appear to be a significant drop in your ability to turn your goal into a habit.
And remember, if it's a more complex task, such as trying to stick to a healthy eating plan if you have never really followed one, it will likely take more time.
So, if you slip up, make it a pit stop, get back on track and keep going!