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Busting the 21 Day Habit Urban Myth

Busting the 21 Day Habit Urban Myth

By Susan Williams

For the longest time I always believed  – “They say it takes only 21 days to make or break a habit”.  The challenge with this was I never knew exactly who they‘ were.

So on a whim, I thought I would check to see if this statement was in fact true or was it really just an urban myth.

According to UCL, the thought that it takes 21 days to make or break a habit is in fact a myth.  

They believe the thinking originated from a plastic surgeon turned psychologist name Dr. Maxwell Martz. Dr. Martz wrote in a book in 1960 that based on his research in plastic surgery he discovered it took approximately 21 days for an old mental image to fade and a new image to take hold.

UCL then went on to provide further research that found that each individual is different in how they form habits and that for the most part habit forming takes longer than 21 days – actually their best estimate was 66 days – but the real key for any habit change was for each individual to stay strong and focused on what they are trying to achieve.

So, what is the best way to make or break a habit?  

Psychology Today published an article that outlined 5 steps to move from bad to good habits.  Here is what they suggested;

Decide that you really want to change something and convince yourself that you actually can.

I guess it probably all starts with the desire and level of commitment that you are prepared to give to the change that you want in your life and then building the confidence in yourself that you can actually do it.

Try to understand why you have the habit in the first place.  

I imagine this is really where the hard work is.  If you can figure out why you are doing something in the first place, you can probably better understand what you need to change both in yourself and your environment in order to make or break the habit.

Set reasonable goals to start.  

The best way to make progress is to actually see your progress and it’s suggested that you set goals that you believe you can actually commit to and achieve.  (See some tips on goal setting that Harvard University provides to help you with this step.)

Measure your progress and don’t be discouraged about occasional slips.  

This is probably one of the hardest things.  I know that often when I feel I’ve ‘blown it’, I question my commitment and often convince myself that there is no way to recover so I might as well just give up.   But I think we need to recognize that this is all part of the process.  The key is to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, forgive ourselves, remind ourselves as to why this change is important and just recommit to doing it.

Get additional support if we need it.  

Sometimes I think we believe that we have to do everything ourselves and that asking for help is a sign of weakness.  In actual fact, asking for help is often a sign of strength.  It’s actually recognizing our own limitations and because of this high level of self awareness we are actually able to look for support.

I guess the biggest lesson in all of this is that making or breaking habits that are limiting our ability to live the life that we want is the most important thing. Whether it’s 21 days, 300 days or even 600 days, the actual time it takes to do this doesn’t really matter.

Actually making the positive change that we want in our lives is what really counts.

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Susan Williams is the Founder of Booming Encore. Being a Boomer herself, Susan loves to discover and share ways to live life to the fullest. She shares her experiences, observations and opinions on living life after 50 and tries to embrace Booming Encore's philosophy of making sure every day matters.