Ah yes, those excellent programs and courses that promise to sort out your bad habits in just 21 days. Apparently after completing the course, your habits will be changed for life! Wow, now wouldn’t that be fantastic? Your brain has spent years learning various habits, but in just three weeks you can unlearn them and learn new ones that will last a lifetime. Never mind who you are, or how you learn, or your current health and situation etc, this is one size fits all, everyone can do it apparently. Sounds great huh?
So, you pay good money to have your life and habits turned around, because 3 weeks is seems manageable, and the course doesn’t sound too challenging either.
Then the 21 days is up and you are feeling great for keeping up and completing the course. If you managed to keep it up that is…
Now fast forward one year…
Since the end of the 21 day program a bunch of things have happened. You have gone through many highs and lows and 365 brand new days since then. Your brain will have changed and grown. If you did complete the course and it contained useful, actionable information and you really did take action on it every day, it may have had a temporary chemical effect on your brain, BUT unfortunately that pesky habit will not be changed for life.
It’s no one’s fault. It’s just the way it is. The whole 21 day theory comes from Dr Maltz, plastic Surgeon, back in the 1950’s who was observing how long it took clients to adjust to their new faces. That then inspired him to look at how long it took himself to adjust to learning a new habit. He published a book with his findings in the 1960’s, which went on to become a blockbuster hit and that’s where it all started.
Here’s the quote from Dr Maltz himself:
“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.”
Notice, he says MINIMUM!? Yes, minimum of about 21 days and that is his own personal observation nothing more!
So that 21 day concept has been passed round like a an old five pound note like it’s fact, then you have a bunch of people making a business out of that concept and selling it back to you! Come on you are worth more than that right?
Here are just five very basic reasons (there are more) why 21 days means diddly squat when it comes to guaranteeing you stick to the new habits for life:
- Everyone learns differently and at a different pace, so habits are also learnt at a different pace.
- It depends what the habit is and how long you have been doing it for.
- Some habits can have emotional ties that make them even harder than other habits to give up
- Just because you do something repetitively for 21 days doesn’t automatically mean you will want to carry it on after that time is up.
- It takes longer than 21 days for the neural pathways in your brain to physically change with the new behaviour.
It’s true your brain will have a physical reaction every time you do something, so if you repetitively did something for 21 days then it would have an effect, but by no means is that guaranteed to stick with you for life. Your brain can change and adapt so easily (known as neuro plasticity), that for most of us, after a year or two, that 21 days is a distant memory. Unless you have kept the behaviours up of course.
So, don’t feel bad if you go off the rails after the 21 days, because you know that it’s not possible for most people to have physically ingrained habits after that short amount of time. I want this blog to provide some relief for many of you that are finding it hard to keep things up for more than a few weeks or months. Nothing is more effective than practice, but it’s not just practice, it’s largely down to your unique brain and how it responds to different scenarios. It is possible to prime your brain to learn things easier, but that’s another blog post on its own.
This whole 3-week concept, to me, is as bad as trying to lose weight as fast as possible. It’s not healthy to believe that the quicker, the better. Trying to rush to the finish line with any goal in life results in an unbalanced attempt. Slow down, enjoy the moment, do something good today that you will appreciate tomorrow, then do the same the next day and the next.
Step by step, one thing at a time. Then you will nail it as you go. 21 days is just the start of ingraining a new habit, not the end. Try keeping something up for over a year or two, or even longer, that’s when real habits form in the brain. In fact, to fully ingrain a new habit, where there is no chance in hell of you going back to the old way, can take up to around eight years. Yes, you read that correctly.
That’s why when some people give up smoking, alcohol, or drugs, it’s not uncommon to go back to it as if they had never stopped, even if they had stopped for months or even years. The important thing is to acknowledge this and if you break the new habit, know that it’s normal. Pick yourself back up and get back on track the same day. If you are going to spend your hard-earned cash on 21 day habit change courses, go into it with the mindset of knowing that it is only the beginning and that habit change takes commitment and work, no matter what.
If you want to know how habits are formed, how they become ingrained and why they are so hard to break, give the Size HH book a read today for a head-start. As with anything, the sooner you begin, the sooner you will see results, so what are you waiting for? Let’s go!