The 21 Day Delusion: How Long It REALLY Takes To Build New Habits

Feb 23, 2024

21 Days to Form a New Habit? 

You’ve probably heard the popular idea that it takes 21 days to form a new habit.

(However, you might NOT have heard of “The 20 Second Rule”, so check out the blog post, here.)

It’s like a popular modern mantra that’s appeared in endless self-help articles and been echoed by self-help gurus all over the world. 

But is it actually TRUE?

Or is it just a myth due for debunking?

Let’s find out.

How New Habits Happen

Forming new behaviors is often seen as an important part of any transformative journey that leads to positive personal growth and self-discipline. 

And it makes perfect sense.

If you want to be happier and more fulfilled, the idea of breaking bad habits and building better ones is a no-brainer, right?

But whether or not it can be achieved in a neat and tidy 21-day package is open to debate.

In recent years, scientific study has thrown light on what it REALLY takes to build good habits — and how long it takes. 

To find out where the “21-days” idea originally comes from, we need to flip back a few pages in the self-development diary, to the work of a pioneering doctor. 

The 21-Day Myth

The concept that it takes 21 days to form a habit can be traced back to Dr. Maxwell Maltz, a plastic surgeon.

Back in the middle of the 20th Century, he observed that it took his patients (for example, someone who’d had a nose job) approximately 21 days to adjust to their new appearance.

But that doesn’t make it a piece of scientific research — it was just an anecdotal observation

The Simple Science Behind Habit Formation

How Long It Really Takes

To understand the reality of how something actually becomes a habit, we need to check out the science. 

In terms of the timeline, some recent studies suggest that the time it takes to form a new habit, and for it to become automatic, is far more variable than the rigid 21-day timeline suggested by Dr. Maltz. 

In a study conducted by the University College London, participants took anywhere from 18 to 254 days to form a new habit, the average being about two months (or 66 days).

That makes sense, because the journey of habit formation is influenced by lots of different factors, such as behavior complexity, motivation, and a massive amount of individual differences.

Consistency Is key

Golden key

While the 21-day myth may give you a motivational starting point, it’s essential to recognize that CONSISTENCY is the key to successful habit formation. 

Whether it’s 21, 66, or 1000 days, the journey towards building a new habit is an ongoing commitment that requires dedication and resilience.

You also need some kind of strategy, or you’re destined to join the 90% of people who fail in achieving their self-development goals. . .

As I mentioned briefly at the start, our article on the ‘The 20 Second Rule’ (and the two simple hacks that come with it) are super-helpful in helping you actually maintaining your progress for however long it takes to finally create that new and healthy habit.

If you’ve been reading our posts for a while, you’ve heard me say this many times already:

STRATEGY BEATS INTENTION. EVERY TIME.

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