Habit Forming

Forming a habit isn’t easy. There are always people saying, 21 days to form a habit. I’ve even heard somebody say that after you do something 3 days in a row, you’re pretty much hooked. But really how long does it take to form a habit?

Some Things Are Designed To Be Addicting

Well let’s look at where the 21 days theory came from. Back in the 1950’s there was a plastic surgeon by the name of Maxwell Maltz. He observed that a patient would take 21 days to recognize their new face as them self. Or 21 days for phantom limb pain to go away. Granted, there were people that it took longer than 21 days for this pain to go away. But there was one thing that Maltz knew was for certain:

“These, and many other commonly observed phenomena tend to show that it requires a minimum of about 21 days for an old mental image to dissolve and a new one to jell.” — Maltz

So how does this lead to people thinking that all habits will form in 21 days? Well in 1960 Maltz published a book called Psycho-Cybernetics. The above quote was in the book, and sold somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 million copies. Then a couple decades passed, and people start misquoting Maltz, and expanding his observation of patients recovery time to include all habits. Shockingly, they couldn’t be more wrong by trying to connect these dots.
 It wasn’t until 2009 that Phillippa Lally actually looked into real habits, and not just recovery from surgery. What she found was that it took anywhere between 18 and 254 days. Just slightly more than what everybody was misquoting… You can read more about that study here if you’re interested.
 So what can we take from this? Well, for starters forming a habit can be really difficult. And if you have a habit of playing videos games, you were playing a lot more than you probably realized. But this also means that you’re going to have to really work at making something positive a habit. You can’t just hope you’ll fall into wanting to go to the gym everyday. You actually have to go, for months, while it still sucks. Same with your career. You’ve got to trudge through the hard work for months until it becomes muscle memory. Once the hard stuff becomes muscle memory you’re probably having fun, or at least not angry, doing the work most people hate because it’s hard. And that separation can be the difference between $10's/hr and $100's/hr.

Originally published at ccockerhamkc.blogspot.com on August 1, 2016.