In the 50s, there was a surgeon who recognized a pattern in his patients' recovery. Dr. Maxwell Maltz began to notice that, after a procedure - like a rhinoplasty, it would take a patient close to 21 days to get used to seeing their new nose on their face. Maltz also took note of amputees who would still sense the missing limb for about 21 days.
These discoveries encouraged the doctor to pay attention to his own patterns and behaviors. You guessed it! Maltz found that he, too, needed about 21 days to create new behaviors. So, he wrote about his findings.
"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."
This quote was published in Maltz's book titled, Psycho-Cybernetics. This book sold more than 30 million copies.
And... the "21 Days to a Habit" lie was born. Well, okay - so it's wasn't a blatant lie. Nonetheless, we see how the doctor's theories were misconstrued, or maybe, just needed some more research. Instead, the world took it and ran.
Like a bad game of "telephone," the more Maltz's discovery was passed around, the more it deviated. Over time, people neglected to include that the doctor said, "a minimum of about 21 days." We chucked that and went straight to: "It takes 21 days to form a new habit."
This is not the doctor's fault. He was observing his surroundings and stating what he found related to those specific circumstances. We, as we often do, turned it into more [or less] what we wanted, and left out what we didn't like, want, or understand.
A study in the European Journal of Social Psychology gathered 96 people and examined them over a 12-week span. It was found that, on average, it takes more than 2 months for a new behavior to become second nature - automatic. Of course, this is all contingent upon the type of behavior/habit, the person, and all surrounding circumstances.
The study confirmed that it took anywhere from 18 to 254 days for the 96 participants to form a new habit.
A new habit in 21 days is possible, but not absolute. It can take anywhere from 18 to 254 days, and that's just based on a study of 96 people. So, be honest with yourself. Most of us spend 21 days just trying to determine if we actually want to go through the growing pains necessary to form a new habit. Know what you want to achieve and be consistent. Forget about the number of days. It will take however long it takes.
Know what you want to achieve and be consistent in your efforts. Forget about the number of days it may take to get there. It will take however long it takes.