But in fact that 21 one day timeline is in point a myth. Don’t get us wrong it was started by a plastic surgeon in the 1950s who noticed that it would take the patient about 21 days to get used to seeing their new face. Similarly, he noticed that it also took himself about 21 days to form a new habit and thus the saying begun. But like a few things from the 1950s (I’ll just say Civil Rights and black and white TV) they can be a little out dated. Luckily we have revised a few things and as the as the good doctor put it himself it takes a minimum, we repeat minimum, of 21 days to form a new habit.
“These, and many other commonly observed phenomena tend to show that it requires a minimum of about 21 days for an old mental image to dissolve and a new one to jell.”
So how long does it actually take?
In a recent study published in the , a health psychologist (Philippa Lally) researched the habits of 96 people over a 12-week period. These habits ranged from “drinking a bottle of water with lunch” or “running for 15 minutes before dinner”. At the end of the 12 weeks, it was concluded that on average it took 66 days for new behaviours to become automatic. They also concluded that the behaviour, person and circumstances also contributed greatly to the ability to form a new habit and it took anywhere from 18 days to 254 days for people to form a new habit.
In other words, if you want to set your expectations appropriately, the truth is that it will probably take you anywhere from two months to eight months to build a new behaviour into your life — not 21 days. So maybe turning the lights of when you leave a room might be a little quicker to come around to than quitting chocolate.
So why is this important?
Well if you’re planning on getting healthy for summer, fit for summer, quit smoking or anything in between in reality you need to start now not November 8. Now don’t let this dishearten you if you were hoping you could just do it in 3 weeks and it would “be done with” it’s a process not an event. And with every process it comes down to two things: getting started and putting the work in. So whether its 21 days or 200 forget about the number and focus on doing the work.