There is a wide-spread myth that, unfortunately, many people have been duped into believing. It is the idea that it takes 21 days to form a new habit. Like many myths, it started with good intent and that was to help people form new positive habits. The idea gave people hope that a habit could be changed in a relatable amount of time. But, it was a misinterpretation of what Plastic Surgeon Dr. Maxwell Maltz observed in his patients about the average amount of time it took patients to get used to their new look. It had nothing to with habit formation.
The problem is that when the new habit doesn’t take hold in 21 days, people experience failure. This leads to feelings of discouragement, poor self-confidence, and a poor self-image. Which in turn, leads to the false belief of “I can’t change my habits.” Ultimately, the hope for change, the hope for improvement dies.
So, just how long does it take to form a new habit? There is no concrete answer to that question. A 2009 study from the University College London concluded “The average modelled time to plateau in this sample was 66 days, but the range was from 18 to 254 days.” 245 days is an outlier data point that it tells us that there are some habits for some people that take a long time to form. The other end of the spectrum, 18 days, tells us that some habits are formed very quickly. People form habits at different rates. Your rate will vary.
When it takes longer than 21 days for you to adopt a habit, don’t get discouraged. The study average was 66 days. A significantly large number of data points fell into the 45 to 80 day range. So yes, it is going to take a while to adopt and form your new habit. The key is to be persistent.
A habit is a set of behaviors. All behavior is changeable. Therefore, all habits are changeable…your habits are changeable. But, it will probably take more than 21 days.