21 Days to Develop a New Habit… I Think Not

We are creatures of habit! Many of our daily behaviors are driven by habit and we often strive to develop new habits, especially as it pertains to our health and wellness. So, what is a habit? Habit formation refers to the automatic response (behavior) brought about by an associated situation. Habits are patterns of behavior “worn in” to our brains. Think about your typical behaviors when you wake up. You probably don’t wake up and consciously think through everything you do every single morning. Those behaviors have become habit. I am going to shed a little light on the subject and give you some practical advise so you can begin to develop new, healthy habits for your new, healthy lifestyle!

21 Days?

Have you ever heard that you can develop a new habit in 21 days? Have you ever wondered where that notion came from? Back in the late 1960’s, Dr. Maxwell Maltz found that “following plastic surgery, it takes about 21 days for the average person to get used to his new face.”  It was has also been noted that it takes about 21 days for an amputee to stop having phantom limb pains. These findings translated into the popular notion that you can develop or break a habit in about 21 days.


It can take anywhere from 18-254 days to develop a new habit.

In actuality, the research shows that it can take anywhere from 18-254 days to develop a new habit. Many factors go into forming habits, notably: emotions, self-esteem, and past experiences. Your emotions attached to certain event or behavior affects the ability of that behavior to become a habit. For example, if you went out for a walk and enjoyed the experience and felt happy, refreshed, and satisfied, it will be much more likely that you will continue that behavior and it will become a habit.

Self-esteem or self-image and habits tend to do hand in hand. If you change one, the other will automatically change. If you have had any success in weight loss, you have seen this to be true first hand. Success in weight-loss leads to a more positive self-image which leads to continued success.  Failure in this area leads to a lower self-image and a continuation of the habits that got you over weight to start with. It seems to be a vicious cycle.

Past experiences tie into both of the above factors. According to Professor Robert Plutchik, behaviors and experiences are tied into emotions and chemicals in our brain are produced which can become desensitized. In other words, emotional addiction can occur making it difficult to change behavior. Habits have an emotional pay-off (think “comfort food”) , thus an emotional trigger. According to Dr. Pert, PhD, it takes 45 days to impact the sensitivity of the receptors and the number of receptors.  Therefore, changing behavior for 45 days can lessen the power of the addiction.

Practically Speaking

So how does a person go about developing really lasting healthy habits?

  1. Desire change.  The stronger the desire, the more likely you will succeed.
  2. Realize it will take time; up to 254 days in some cases (that is a long time).
  3. Make one change at a time.
  4. Repeat the desired behavior as often as possible but don’t panic if you miss a day.
  5. Get specific.
  6. Write it down.
  7. Set up external accountability (pay a trainer, join a support group).
  8. Use technology.  Set up reminders on your smart phone or tablet.
  9. Choose simple habits to begin with verses complex behaviors.
  10. Seek habits you will enjoy!

Habits don’t require memory, will-power, or conscious thought, but positive memories and emotions will affect the formation!  Find what is pleasurable to you in your health and fitness journey and you will be more likely to stick with it.  Have you developed new, healthy habits? How did you go about it? Leave a comment and let me know!

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