“It takes 21 days to break a habit”. Here’s the truth!
Before I share some tips on motivation and how to create a healthy lifestyle change, lets explore the ever so famous statement “it takes 21 days to break a habit”, which is a belief of many people and creeps up in many promotions and articles to do with health and fitness or creating a change in life.
The origins of the ’21 days’ claim actually comes from Dr Maxwell Maltz, a plastic surgeon turned psychologist who in the preface to his 1960 book ‘Psycho-cybernetics’ wrote: ‘It usually requires a minimum of about 21 days to effect any perceptible change in a mental image. Following plastic surgery it takes about 21 days for the average patient to get used to his new face. When an arm or leg is amputated the “phantom limb” persists for about 21 days. People must live in a new house for about three weeks before it begins to “seem like home”. 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.’
So are we talking about habituation, as in ‘getting used’ to something or developing an automatic response that results in habit formation?
The term ‘it takes 21 days to break a habit’ is another classic example of a phrase lost in translation over time. (Have you ever researched the origin of the term ‘3 square meals’ and how that came about??)
A short term fitness challenge can be great starting out but there are many other underlying issues to address, other than your “why”, to empower you going forward and it certainly doesn’t allow enough time to work through those habits.
Habits are likely to persist over time because they are automatic and therefore do not rely on conscious thought, memory or willpower. A study on this topic has shown the time it takes to form a habit are not so clear cut. What majority of studies have shown is that it takes on average 66 days for a habit to form. The timeframe is very much dependent on the individual.
The key is to think ‘lifestyle’ not ’21 days’ or a ’12 week challenge’ for that matter. As long as you continue doing your new healthy behaviour consistently in a given situation, a habit will form!
The health and fitness industry is a flooded market when it comes to products and services to help people implement a healthier lifestyle so it’s any wonder we end up with clients who have tried many “challenges” and fallen back into old habits afterwards. Here’s what we’ve learnt about challenges; amazing 21 day, 12 week or 24 week transformations amount to nothing if they don’t have a positive lasting impact on your life.
We believe the purpose of a challenge or transformation program should not be about having you to repeat them so that you can maintain your results and we believe they should be more than just motivation to help you change for the short term. A challenge that will help you lose weight and keep weight off needs to address some deep matters such as your belief system around your body and nutrition and also needs to empower you so that you are naturally driven by your own motivation instead of having to rely upon others. To create change, the way you think and feel about yourself will be challenged. To make it a successful experience you need to be willing to accept a different perspective and put in the work to make that change finally happen for yourself.
Perhaps you’ve just completed a transformation or weight loss challenge. Here’s the common problem with these short term challenges. Even if they do give you the taste of a healthy lifestyle, they often don’t run long enough to teach you the habits on how to sustain a healthy lifestyle, so a couple of months after you’ve finished, you may find yourself back where you started, or worse.
With any new challenge, we always start with the best intentions but how quickly it can all unravel.
We all love a quick fix but dig deep and you’ll discover that a quick fix is simply a band aid solution, the idea of a short challenge is very appealing and achievable to stick to but I’ll let you in on a little secret. When I used to work in a busy gym with over 5,000 members, I saw this scenario all to often.
We would get flooded with new members, we’d see their faces every single day for the first week, then from Monday to Saturday the second week, Monday to Thursday the third week and you guessed it, lucky if we saw them every Monday 8 weeks later.
When you decide you need a good kick up the bum, you are pumped and determined to not only create this new lifestyle change, but to smash your goals and turn your life around. Upon starting anything new, our motivation is always at it’s highest peak but all to common is the way motivation fades when you feel like you just can’t keep up with all the things you need to be doing. But all hope is not lost! I’ll let you in on something else. You do have it in you to achieve the body and lifestyle you are wanting!
The underlying issue that needs to be addressed is lifestyle and creating a sustainable healthy lifestyle change! This of course takes time and it’s why we have created programs like our Overhaul Transformation Program and our online course Habit Overhaul.
So now that you all know the truth about how long it takes to break a habit, let me share with you something to help you motivated beyond those first few weeks.
The body transformation specialists of Lilydale would like to let you in on 6 tips to help you get off to a great start with your lifestyle change. You can find it here!
If you would like to work with trainers who care more about you than a 21 day product, offer or service, give us a call and we can have a chat about a personalised plan to help you take steps toward your own lasting successful lifestyle change. Your free consultation is an opportunity for you to discuss your health and training goals with educated and experienced personal trainers who have been offering premium personal training services to the Yarra Valley community since 2008. Your health and wellness is always in good hands at Assist PT.
Train smart, nourish with foods, breathe deeply!
Lally, P., van Jaarsveld, C. H. M., Potts, H. W. W., & Wardle, J. (2010). How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world. European Journal of Social Psychology, 40, 998-1009
Published 15th October 2014