The Myth About Habits
Habits transform us and whatever small change or big change we are trying to achieve is a move towards transformation. - Rohaizan Sallehudin
It is commonly believed that if you did something continuously for 21 days, it would become a habit. And you can change yourself in 21 days.
This is a Myth!
It’s actually something that originated way back in the 1950’s. A plastic surgeon called Maxwell Maltz noticed that when he performed operations like nose jobs on his patients, it took them about 21 days to get used to seeing their new face. He also noticed that when he tried to form new habits for himself, he took about 21 days to do so. He wrote about his experiences in a book called Psych-Cybernetics, “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.”
This became commonplace over time. Somehow the “minimum” got dropped. And that is how the myth of 21 days for habit forming developed.
New research has shown that it takes 66 days for a habit to become “automatic”. However, like everything else, it will be different for different people. Some will achieve it in 20 days, others may take 85 days. Simple behaviours like eating more fruit may take a shorter time because of the effect of enjoyment and immediate gratification. Others, like going for a run every other day may be more challenging and take longer.
Here’s the Truth
The truth is habits are formed daily. We shouldn’t need to count the days if we’ve decided to do something with good reason and purpose.
When we know the bigger purpose for which we are doing something, when we choose to do something new or do something differently, it comes from within. When we are trying to do something new because of external motivation, when it’s not self-generated, that is when it becomes a challenge. And challenges call for “willpower” to continue the journey, which always means an uphill battle, doesn’t it? It’s easy to lose the motivation to continue and break the change before it becomes a habit.
Have you looked forward to today? To celebrate the victory of a new habit? Or are you fighting a daily battle inside to slug it out for one more day? You can try to look at it another way. Find your own reason for wanting to make the change. Forget about any external justification for what you’re doing – peer pressure, spouse or family, boss or other sources. Ask yourself, “What is the reason I want to do this? What is the purpose of what I’m trying to do?” If you can’t find your reason to do it then you probably won’t succeed because in reality you’re just “forcing yourself” to do it and it’s not “natural”. Forces inside you, such as values and desires, will not be congruent with what you are trying to do and you will be constantly in conflict.
So what’s the moral of the story? Discover the purpose and do it for YOU and no one and nothing else.
That is how we change and that is how we can celebrate our victory every day – not the victory of “I stuck it out for another day” but the victory of “I know what I want and I do it for me”.
Tomorrow is another day and another celebration.