The Myth About 21 Days of Habit Development
Find out why we do 21-day challenges anyway.
You don’t want to create a lofty plan and then quit halfway through the journey.
It turns out there is more to habit development than a 21-day plan.
A 21-day challenge gives you a quick morale boost.
Misguided by the 21-day plan of perfection, my initial target for writing was also the same. I set a tiny mark to give a morale boost for the long haul.
But what is the truth behind the 21-day habit development plan?
Your learning speed is unique to you.
You’ll know it when your habit becomes your lifestyle.
Scientifically, it takes around 18 to 254 days for an average adult to incorporate a habit into their routine. Now, I’ve crossed the upper limit of the duration for my writing because I started on March 25 last year. My fitness journey inception is way into the super-past — 2 years ago.
I’ve been through all the colours of habit development.
Is there any magical day number when you’ll know you have developed a habit?
No. You’ll know it when your habit becomes your lifestyle. You’ll know it when your mind becomes restless when you’re not in the action mode. You’ll know when the practice reaches an autonomous level that executing it feels effortless.
Here are three steps to add more clarity to your habit development quest:
#1. Set small incremental targets to reduce internal resistance.
I generally start with one week. Simple af.
If your ex can do it, why can’t you?
Next is 10. Then 21, 50, 100 and so on. When I realise I don’t have to push myself because the habit has reached the subconscious level, I stop tracking the pattern and switch up the difficulty level to keep challenging myself to avoid plateauing.
#2. Fuel your motivation with progress-tracking.
The human brain works on a simple reward-based system of Association Theory. You might’ve heard of Atomic Habits by James Clear.
He’s a fantastic storyteller. He repackaged this 2-word concept into a book by showing you multiple ways to achieve the same goal: become your best self.
For example, After finishing two 15-day streaks for smoking detox in June, I’ve started tracking my habit of going cold turkey in July.
Before going to bed, I mark a circle on my calendar. The marks increase by one every day before I gravitate to the slumberland, and that’s the motivation with only an upward graph. It’s as addictive as porn.
#3. Increase the difficulty level slowly.
Novelty is what keeps your mind alive.
We eat for culinary novelty, binge-watch for entertainment novelty and travel for spatial novelty.
New experiences are exciting, pumping and keep the heat flowing.
But when the novelty comes from a healthy habit, it demands you to challenge yourself whenever you hit a milestone.
The human brain is a muscle, and the deliberate practice is its necessary workout where you need to increase the difficulty level slightly after every checkpoint.
Get fed up and start now.
What’s the ONE habit you’re desperate to ace? To stick to your routine for continuous motivation, track your behaviour by checking a calendar every day you finish the task. That’s because consistency is vital in starting to build the momentum and quell your internal resistance. Consistency can silence your inner critic. There you go.
Once the habit reaches the subconscious level, consistency becomes a drug, and you won’t have to force yourself to adopt it. That’s because when a behaviour comes to the subconscious level, your neurons fire like electricity if you keep training your mind to outperform yourself every day.
Novelty is the gift of consistency. And you want to discover your hidden powers, don’t you?
To attain mastery, start small, reward your ass off in a healthy way ( rare guilty pleasure allowed ), and if you’re still stuck, please read about the power of Association Theory.
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Sanjeev is a writer, mentor and recovering shopaholic from India. He writes about lifelong learning, personal growth, and positive psychology. When he’s not busy with his muse, he’s sweating either in a workout or emulating outdoor games in his home because of the pandemic. He also chronicles his writing and fitness journey on Instagram. He’s putting fires on Twitter too.