Forming A New Habit In 21 Days: Truth Or Lies?

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Image: Public Domain, Pixabay

In my previous article I mentioned the idea of making a new habit in 21 days, which seems to be the generally accepted amount of time that it takes for someone to ingrain a new behavior to the point of it being almost automatic. It turns out that this may not be true, and it’s just one of those things that gets me a little worked up.

Apparently, there’s no absolute scientific proof that it takes 21 days to form a new habit. Studies have shown that it can take anywhere from 18 to 65 days or even more for someone to form a new behavior habit, and I couldn’t find any real research on how long it takes to form a new mental habit. Upon further reading (and remembering my own past) there’s evidence that some habits can be formed in as little as a few days or in some cases a few minutes.

So once again there’s something that people are following that may or may not be true. 21 days sounds like a long time, but most people will accept that it’s what they have to do. Others will see hope in those who have done it faster, and try to achieve that. Others still may see studies that say it can take several months and wonder why they’re even bothering if it takes so long. The lack of absolute answers just causes confusion and unhappiness.

So what if we stopped worrying how long it’s going to take to form a new habit and just do the things that we intend to do? Maybe it’ll be hard at first, or maybe it’ll be easy. Maybe we’ll need a paper calendar and a mobile app and a computer reminder to keep us doing something for months on end or maybe we’ll set all that up and not need it four days later. Why do the numbers matter so much?

I think the numbers may matter to some people because they want a deadline. “If I can keep doing this thing that I don’t want to do for X days then I’ll succeed and it’ll be great.” But there are two problems there. One, if you don’t want to do it, you’ll probably fail. You need to do things you want to do, or find a way to want to do them. Hating what you’re doing almost guarantees failure. Two, you need to accept that it’s going to take as long as it takes. When you do, you’re okay if it takes a long time, and happy as a clam (How happy are clams anyway?) if you succeed more quickly.

I swear, the more I learn the more I realize that no one out there has the answers that most of us want. Big questions like “What do I do?”, “Who’s got it right?”, “How long will it take?”, or “Why am I failing?” simply can’t be answered. A lot of life’s questions have no absolute answer, even if some people claim that they do. Even things we think are absolute, like truth and gravity, aren’t really, and you can even find proof of that.

Here’s a habit worth trying to form: learn to know when it’s worth caring about. I mean really, does it matter how long it’ll take you to form a new habit? Either you want to do it or you don’t, having a time-frame shouldn’t matter. Does it matter what faith has it “right”? Either you believe in something or you don’t. As hard as it is to swallow, even for me, a lot of the things we spend our time worrying about don’t really matter. If we could let go of that need to have an absolute answer, we’d have a lot more time and energy to spend on things that actually do matter.


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