You know those people who go for a run every morning, or don’t eat the cookies they have in the cupboard, or go on an adventure every single weekend?! You see, it’s all about habits. Forming habits. Keeping habits. Breaking habits.
It takes some effort and determination, sure, but once you have it, you have it for life! So in the grand scheme of things, doing some work for a couple of months doesn’t seem that bad, does it? No, it most certainly does not! Let’s have a look at how it works, shall we?!
Pro Tip: We have loads of posts on how to make habits work for you and not the other way around; enjoy!
As we said, we already have posts on how to make habits stick, but we’re gonna run through it quickly anyway – repetition is how you learn, right?
Basically, a habit is something you do automatically, without even thinking about it (not too much, anyway). Coffee in the morning, turning the light on in a dark room, using your indicator when you’re driving, those are all habits.
It starts with a trigger (the room is dark), that is followed by an action (the light is switched on), and then there’s a reward (you can now see what’s up). Pretty simple, right? Damn right. The only tricky part is to connect the trigger with the action – being rewarded is easy! So, what’s next?
21 days is a number that’s been circling around when people talk about habits for a while – and no wonder, imagine if it only took three weeks to build up a habit! Pretty swell. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. But where does the number come from? Well, there was this plastic surgeon…
In the ‘50s, Maxwell Maltz realized that it took his patients around 21 days to get used to change – in their case a new nose, or a lost limb. In other words, old mental images dissolved and are replaced by new ones in three weeks, give or take. He found this fascinating, published a book, and a myth was born.
Because it really isn’t the same to form life-long habits as it is to get used to bigger lips, is it? Not really. So we can forget about those 21 days. However, it got other people thinking about how long it does take to create a new habit-pattern.
Phillippa Lally (how awesome is that name?!) and her fellow scientists decided to do a little experiment. They rounded up 96 people, asked each of them to start doing something new every day for 12 weeks, and then Lally et al checked in on the subjects; when did it start feeling properly automatic, and which days did they forget to do it? The results showed that on average, it took 66 days to form a habit that would actually stick.
That’s pretty cool, right? After just over two months, we’ve made enough new neuropathways (connections between neurons, or brain cells) for our brain to favor them over old ones! Makes you wonder what else our minds can do, doesn’t it?
66 was the average number of days, yes, but it actually took the subjects between 18 and 254 days until their habits really stuck. This was due to a couple of reasons: firstly, no one’s the same. We all know that. It also depended on the habit in question; drinking a bottle of water before lunch stuck a lot quicker than going for a run after work. Which makes sense.
People also have different circumstances (if you live close to a gym, it’s easier than if you have to drive for an hour), as well as different motivations. If you’re doing something for yourself or someone else, forming habits is quicker than if you just know that you ‘should.’ Also, some people seem to be habit-resistant, making the process that much slower!
Pro Tip: If you’re struggling to keep on going, you can always join our Patreon and get all the motivation and pep-talks you’d ever want!
Now, this is a very interesting discovery: if you forget or skip to do your habit now and then, it doesn’t affect the result! If you want to have a cheat day, or if you’re just not able to go for that run, don’t sweat it. Just get back on track, and you’ll be a-okay. Good one, brain.
Well, it’s even and nice. That’s always good. Other than that, it’s valuable to know that if you’re not there after three weeks, that’s okay because it’s supposed to take longer! It also helps us realize that it’s a process rather than a goal that you reach and then that’s it. In a sense, it doesn’t matter how long it takes; you’re going to keep your habit forever anyway, right?
Yes, you can replace a bad habit instead of creating a good one from scratch. You just need to reprogram those neuropathways, remember? If you’ve had your bad habit for a long time, it’ll take longer. Because the pathways run deeper. Isn’t it great when things are logical?!
Are you excited to start? Have you decided on a habit yet? Can we know what it is? Whether it’s a new one or an adjustment of old habits, the best of luck to you! Keep at it, and you’ll get there. Promise.