Starting and Breaking Habits: The 21 Day Myth

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Starting and Breaking Habits: The 21 Day Myth

Habits can be interesting in many ways.  Our habits can be good, bad, dangerous, neutral, or just weird.  Brushing your teeth, smoking cigarettes, meditating, How do we start a great habit and end a bad habit?negative self talk, praying, self harm, turning on the same radio station when you get into the car, watching reality TV shows, reading before bed, working out, eating healthy, associating with negative people, associating with positive people, alcohol and drug usage, overreacting, and the list goes on.  How do you start a great habit and end a bad habit?

Dr. Maxwell Maltz wrote the book Psycho-Cybernetics in the 1960s which started the whole famous line that it takes 21 days to break or begin a habit.  His theory came from performing amputations and his patients feeling a phantom limb for 21 days.  Does it really take 21 days to break or start a new habit?  Many argue strongly, for and against, Dr. Maltz’ theory about 21 days regarding habits.  Some psychologists say no, some life coaches say yes. Self-help books say yes and thousands of studies have proved to be inconclusive.  Setting that 21 day bar, in my opinion is a problem because it does not address the complexities of a habit.  Some of these being how an individual was raised, socioeconomic factors, environmental factors, etc. These elements have an impact on our habits.  21 days can’t touch a lifetime of what an individual was taught from an early age or battling an addiction.

I do not think Dr. Maltz’ theory applies to everyone.  Think about and analyze all your habits whether they are current, prior, good, or bad.  Some habits are simply outgrown with age, some habits are easy to start and keep because of instant gratification, and some great habits are hard to start and hard to maintain because they require willpower. Some habits can be stopped immediately due to the danger/negative reinforcement and stopping some bad habits can require help from the outside(and that process can take longer than 21 days). All this being said, 21 days does not work for every habit regardless of its place on the good/bad spectrum.

Starting or breaking a habit starts with intention.  Ask, “Why am I starting or stopping this ritual?”

What works for you when it comes to starting or breaking habits?

More Resources

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