How Long Does Change Take?

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

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?

2 Responses to “How Long Does Change Take?”

  1. Kat says:

    This has helped me immensely. My word this year is surrender. I am reading a book about the importance of “enemies”. That doesn’t naturally mean a human enemy, it’s any thing or person that you are in battle with in any way. Satan will use any avenue he can sink his claws into, as a weapon against you to bring you down to his level.

    My enemy at this point in time just happens to be a supervisor at work. Her management style is to tear down a person’s self confidence and self esteem until they are so stressed they become an emotional, sensitive, easy target. She enjoys seeing them hurt, and even when my team lead was driven to tears and crying in public (in our office), she laughed in her face, said she thought it was hilarious that she was crying. (I haven’t heard that since high school)

    Lately, I have been using GOD and his word to strengthen my spiritual armor to stop her from winning the battle against me. The book I mentioned above states that the battle with “the enemy” is like spiritual boot camp (my phrase). If you can learn to successfully correspond, or battle through, the situation your in and learn from it, GOD is going to give your next promotion. He needs to know you are strong enough and mature enough to appreciate the blessing or task He needs for you to do for Him..

    My inclination to NOT keep my mouth shut and not defend myself against any attack, especially verbal, is very strong. I have a flyer in my cubicle that says “Lord please please keep your arm around my shoulder and your hand over my mouth.”

    I haven’t decided if I will stay in this position permanently, two maybe three years. My first inclination to her attacks was to just quit and walk away. I couldn’t see spending the next two to three years having to do battle everyday with her dishonesty, her disrespect, or constant tactless comments that are jabs at something she has found that are worry or something that bothers you and you have trouble dealing with.

    But GOD reminded me that I have NEVER given up or just quit anything. I have been through some really rough times in my life, some worse than the present struggle. I didn’t let it beat me before, and by LORD I am NOT going to quit now. I am a single parent with three kids, one in college. I am NOT a weak person who just quits when adversity comes at me. I don’t whine, cry, or crumble when things get tough. I was trained old school, you come in early, you leave late, take few breaks, work through lunch if there is a lot of work to do, and if you not on your death bed unable to move, you get up and you go to work. You don’t whine every time someone says something that bothers you, “stick and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me”, unless I allow them to. But for the first time in many years, I have the small hunch that I may not work for the federal government until retirement, and for the first time, it is something I kind of look forward to.

    I fell stronger today, than I ever have in my life. Because my research, study, and practice, I am able to free up a little more each day. By free up, I mean to let go. And even though I’m not totally debt free and will have to tighten my belt for the next six months (federal sequestration), I still have a happy positive attitude. I’ve made it through worse with MUCH less money and/or resources. I just remember, I HAVE a job when many don’t. That is a blessing in its self. I have a great future for a successful career, if the federal government doesn’t self-destruct. But if I work hard, study, and acquire as much knowledge and wisdom as I can, then I can choose to go where ever I want, as long as GOD is in agreement with my request.

    GOD Bless everyone today.

    May God give you…
    For every storm, a rainbow,
    For every tear, a smile,
    For every care, a promise,
    And a blessing in each trial.
    For every problem life sends,
    A faithful friend to share,
    For every sigh, a sweet song,
    And an answer for each prayer.

    • My One Word says:

      Thanks for your comment – will pray God leads you and strengthens you in this. As Ephesians 6:6 instructs, whatever your work or whoever your boss, work as unto the Lord. SURRENDER to Him and He will lead you.