We often notice advertisements, bill boards etc. reading “Lose 10 kilos in just 3 weeks”, or “start speaking English like a pro, in just 21 days”. However, the myth of 21 days for the formation of a new habit has not come out of nowhere. It dates back to the 1950s, when surgeon Maxwell Maltz generally observed his patients and discovered that it took them approximately 21 days to adjust to a new change in their body or face.
After every surgery that he did, for the first few days, his patients behaved as if they possessed the earlier state of their physique, e.g. whose limp was amputated would try moving with both legs for the first few days, one who has had aplastic surgery would tend not to recognize him or herself initially. The reason being the previous image that is already imprinted in the mind takes sufficient time to dissolve, and after 21 days of adjustment period, the new situation seemed imbibed.
But recent researches have proved that the number 21 is as good as a myth. Getting a new habit which will positively change your life is a good thing, but developing a habit takes much more than 3 weeks. A habit is a part of the life process. It is much more than an adjustment or settlement of the mind.
A good habit develops slowly and steadily.
The research by University College London delved into the truth and tried to find out the actual time span required for developing a new habit or skill. Each of the participants initially tried practising the habit of taking water after breakfast and attempted to keep to their self-goals so that they could analyse how habitual the practice was actually becoming.
It was observed that it took almost 66 days, i.e. little more than 2 months for the water taking to be automatic.
Hence we can conclude that 66 days is a tentative time that one can take to adjust to a new situation, or accommodate a new quality into daily life.
However, a good habit is again different. If you decide that from the first of March you will start reading at least one page of a book daily, to keep a healthy reading habit for knowledge. It is very likely that you can fail in the first few attempts. Pressurized by your professional and personal life and other daily duties and activities, it might be hard to find time for books, that too for the pleasure of reading. You can fail in the first week; maybe you could just read for two days in a week. That doesn’t really mean that you can never acquire the precious sense of reading.
Scientific researches have also found that some people took 84 days or more to get accustomed to a particular task, that was not a part of their daily lives earlier.
How to keep yourself motivated?
Developing a good habit is great and not so difficult perhaps, but keeping yourself motivated for the task is very important.
Do not discourage yourself with the failure- You may fail once or twice in keeping up with the set goal. But perseverance should not lose hold. If you fail to make daily exercise as a part of your daily routine, in the first week, it really doesn’t signify that you will never master a fit and fine body. Keep trying.
Losing to yourself is disheartening- set goals which are practical and which you will be able to achieve. Not the “lose 10kilos in 3 weeks” type, which is next to impossible.
Move slowly but steadily- each day move a step ahead towards your goal. Do little every day to get the habit embedded in your regular routine.
Do not slacken your pace once you start- the first few weeks are important for your new habit. Keep yourself charged so that you can achieve what you want. Do not slow down. Do not miss a day or two of exercise, when you have decided to work out every day. If you do not have much time on that day, at least practise it for 10 minutes without giving a miss.
Regularity will keep you motivated. The day you skip, the next day will automatically pass as a break.
As you gain the results of the good habit, you will be charged up to do more. Remember, a habit is a process not an event that you have to conclude within a specific time. You can always do better when you give yourself more time.