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How long does it take to form a new habit

It may take a long time to form a new habit but it is rewarding when you get there.  



In the 1950s, plastic surgeon, Maxwell Maltz observed that his patient took about 21 days to become familiar with a “new or revised” body part. Having observed others, Maltz then considered his own life experiences which confirmed his view. In fact, Maltz wrote: “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 wrote this in his 1960s book, "Psycho-Cybernetics", which sold more than 30 million copies. Over time, people started to engage in the bad habit of quoting just part of Maltz’s observation. Yes you got it! People quoting Maltz forgot to use “about” so he (Maltz) became known for saying that it took 21 days to form a new habit. 

The 21 days stuck and was inspirational. It wasn’t so long as to seem to be too difficult and it wasn’t so short as to be unbelievable. 

Next up is Phillippa Lally from University College London who set out in a study in the “European Journal of Social Psychology” just how long it actually takes to form new habits. 



Lally’s research took in 96 people over 12 weeks. Analysis of each person’s chosen new habit, showed that it took, on average, 66 days before these new habits felt natural. The range within the study showed that a natural feeling could occur from anywhere between 18 days and 254 days. 

The message here is that it won’t take the 21 days that others may quote to you. 

If you miss the odd occasion, Lally’s research also showed that the overall results were not affected. Her trial group did make the changes they sought. So by making small forward steps, you will keep moving towards that goal.

Understanding this from the beginning makes it easier to manage your expectations and commit to making small, incremental improvements — rather than pressuring yourself into thinking that you have to do it all at once. 

Engage the help of a friend. You may have slipped back into that old habit without noticing it & need a gentle reminder. Maybe this is part of the coach’s role. 

Whether it takes you 18 days or 300 days, if you buy into changing your habit and keep moving forward, you will eventually arrive at your rewarding goal.


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