February 12, 2013
You’ve probably heard it said that it takes 21 days to break a bad habit or to form a new one.
Search “21 days” at Amazon and you’ll find a slew of books to help you change in just three weeks’ time:
- 21 Days to a Great Marriage
- 21 Days to Grow Closer to Christ
- 21 Days to Train Your Dog
- 21 Days to a Balanced Life
- 21 Days to Financial Freedom
- 21 Days to a More Disciplined Life
Those are all actual titles on Amazon by the way. Some books give you an extra week to change like 30 Days to Taming Your Tongue or 30 Days to Thin or 30 Days to a More Powerful Vocabulary. All actual titles as well.
Then there is our book My One Word: Change Your Life With Just One Word. And we’re telling you to spend an entire year focused on just one change. Why do that for a year if we can change something every 3-4 weeks?
Because this 21 days idea is basically bogus. According to Psychologist Jeremy Dean, author of Making Habits, Breaking Habits, there is no scientific evidence that 21 days (or 28 days or 30 days) is a key amount of time for forming or reforming habits.
Apparently this urban legend deserves it’s own page on snopes.com.
Dean does cite research in his book that reveals that the amount of time it takes someone to instill a new habit varies from person to person and from habit to habit:
In a study carried out at University College London, 96 participants were asked to choose an everyday behavior that they wanted to turn into a habit. They all chose something they didn’t already do that could be repeated every day; many were health-related: people chose things like “eating a piece of fruit with lunch” and “running for 15 minutes after dinner.”
Each of the 84 days of the study, they logged into a website and reported whether or not they’d carried out the behavior, as well as how automatic the behavior had felt.
People who resolved to drink a glass of water after breakfast were up to maximum automaticity after about 20 days, while those trying to eat a piece of fruit with lunch took at least twice as long to turn it into a habit. The exercise habit proved most tricky with “50 sit-ups after morning coffee,” still not a habit after 84 days for one participant. “Walking for 10 minutes after breakfast,” though, was turned into a habit after 50 days for another participant.
Overall, the researchers were surprised by how slowly habits seemed to form. Although the study only covered 84 days, by extrapolating the curves, it turned out that some of the habits could have taken around 254 days to form—the better part of a year!
Making Habits, Breaking Habits, pg 5-7
With My One Word, we’re asking you to spend a year submitted to God and your one word. That should give you enough time to change habits – even challenging ones.
It should also allow time for God to insert His agenda into your plans for life change.
Another thing Dean dicusses is the fact that a perfect track record is not necessary to making changes. You can miss a few days here and there. You can forget or mess up from time to time. But if you repeatedly get back on track and keep after it, you will see change occur over time.
So stay patient in the process. Overhaul in 21 days is not our goal; focus over the long haul is.
Does this research make you feel better about how long it is taking you to produce the changes you’d like to see?