You’ve probably heard that it takes 21 days to form a habit. Well, that is not really accurate. The myth of taking 21 days to form a habit probably originated in 1960 in the popular book, “Psychocybernetics” by Dr. Maxwell Maltz, a plastic surgeon who took up psychology. Dr. Maltz noticed that it took plastic surgeon patients about 21 days to adjust their self-image following plastic surgery or amputation of a limb. He stated, “Our self-image and habits go together. Change one and you will automatically change the other.” It has been speculated that this supposed link between self-image and habits eventually became the mantra that it takes 21 days to form a habit.
How long does it take to form a habit?
Researchers at the University College in London decided to investigate just how long it takes to turn an everyday behavior into a habit. For 84 days, they had participants work on turning a behavior of their choice into a habit. On average the participants took 66 days to form their new habits. The time it took for habits to form ranged from a mere 18 days to 254 days.
They also learned that missing a day or two did not affect the formation of the new habit. Consistency mattered more especially in the beginning stages of habit formation.
We now know that habits can vary in the amount of time it takes to adopt a new habit. Getting a good start and being relatively consistent is more important that striving for perfection.
So what does this mean as far as a your exercise or nutrition goals? Don’t expect a miracle to occur in three weeks. If you set a New Year’s resolution to get fit or improve your nutrition plan be as consistent as possible on average for 66 days or until March 6th.
If you miss a day or two, keep going. Habits take a long time to form. Try to be consistent when you are starting to adopt a new habit. If you miss a day don’t give up, just keep working on the new habit until you do not have to even think about the behavior you are trying to adopt.