The 21 Day Habit Myth (Don’t Break the Chain!)
I hate to be a party pooper, but I just don’t believe it takes 21 days to create a habit. Or 30 days. Or however long people are saying. It’s true that you can’t simply do something for only 3 days, or 10, and expect it to “stick”. And the effort required to create a new habit is well worth it! But I think there are too many factors to pin it down to a specific number of days for all habits and all people.21 days may not be enough to create the habit you desire. But don't give up! Click To Tweet
Factors include: your mindset and previous experiences; the specific habit you are trying to create; logistics; your tendencies; and whether it is a daily, weekly, or monthly habit that you are trying to establish. (Just Google 21 Day Habit Myth to see I’m not the only one.)
Don’t break the chain!
This calendar image is from a time when I successfully completed 21 days of a New Year’s Resolution, which was to walk at least 20 minutes on the treadmill in the morning, BEFORE breakfast or coffee. People always say “exercise in the morning” and I always resisted that, thinking I’ll do it later…which usually doesn’t happen. The goal was to build back up to a longer, faster walk, with intervals and inclines, and then add in more activities during the day. 20 minutes on the treadmill in the morning was just the bare minimum.
The habit-forming strategy I used (that time) was Jerry Seinfeld’s “Don’t Break the Chain” method which is, essentially:
- Pick a goal.
- Mark off the days on which you work toward that goal.
- Use your chain of marked-off days as a motivator.
As you can see from the photo, the chain of Xs was not broken. Yay for me! I didn’t rely solely on “The Chain”, though. Other behaviors that supported the new habit included: 1) I put my walking shoes, socks, and clothes on the floor right next to my bed. I’d have to go out of my way to NOT put them on and be ready for the treadmill! 2) I rigged up a treadmill computer desk of sorts so that I could check Facebook, and email, and read articles while I walked. I had other strategies for amusing myself on the treadmill for longer walks: watch TV or movies; listen to audiobooks; meditate on a set of affirmations; and, yes, look out the window and let my mind wander.
Don’t give up!
So…was 21 days enough to create a new habit? I don’t remember….that was 5 years ago. And I’m not doing it now, so… it wouldn’t be the first habit I have created, and broken, and re-created during my lifetime! But think about it….who has time to do everything they ever wanted to do all at the same time? Things change. Even the best system needs tweaking now and then.
I was reminded of this old 2014 post because now, in 2019, I’m trying to establish the habit of writing everyday. I was inspired by a colleague to attend a writing conference, and was inspired by the conference to write an outline for a non-fiction book called What’s a Photo Without the Story? And then I stopped, but only for a few weeks, because I had yet to incorporate the new project into my daily routine.
Now it’s NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and I was inspired by my friends at the Getting to Good Enough podcast to join them. They are aiming at 50,000 words during the month of November, and I am aiming at 1 hour a day working on my non-fiction book. We are keeping each other accountable by entering our progress on a shared spreadsheet. Wish us luck!
Tell me, by leaving a comment…what works for YOU when creating a new habit?
How have your habits and goals changed over the years?
Copyright 2014-2019 by Hazel Thornton, Organized For Life.
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