Why 21 days? Psycho-cybernetics
Unsurprisingly, the origin of this 21-day rule comes from aesthetic medicine. Indeed, in the 1960s, the American surgeon Maxwell Maltz came up with this revolutionary theory. After noticing that it took his patients an average of 3 weeks to get used to their new face, he stated that “it takes a minimum of 21 days to remove an old mental image and create a new one”. 🧠
Proud of his discovery, the plastic surgeon published the book Cybernetic Psychology. The book quickly became one of the top 50 most influential writings in the field of personal development. In almost six decades, this magic formula has been repeated thousands of times. The problem? The glowing promises tend to leave out the word “minimum” in the theory.
Through Chinese whispers, these 21 days have become an undisputed truth. You can’t watch an inspirational video or browse through a wellness book without coming across this rule. From a marketing point of view, it’s a jackpot: a short period to change your life, it’s a dream. But what about the scientific aspect?
>>> Discover the 12 steps to follow for a fresh start.
The theory of 21 days, what the science says
Science then took up the issue. Various studies have been conducted to answer the question of how long it takes to break or change a habit. Some were ordered by the Canadian government, others by NASA. 🕵️ The most notable study is by Phillippa Lally, a researcher at University College London.
This study was conducted on 96 individuals over 12 weeks. Each person chose a habit they wanted to change, and they were asked to report daily on the perceived change. They were also asked to record on a calendar whether they had performed their new ritual. The analysis revealed that it took on average 66 days to change a habit. Could this be the new Holy Grail of “neural reprogramming”? 😏 Not really. Above all, it’s proof that adopting a new practice varies drastically depending on the person, the type of habit to be adopted, and the circumstances.
👉 For example, eating one piece of fruit a day would be easier to implement than changing your diet completely and becoming a vegan.
The verdict: at least 21 days...
In conclusion, the 21-day period is more of a myth than an absolute truth. It takes AT LEAST 21 days to change a habit. However, allow more time in your schedule to make a lasting transformation. Also, keep in mind that there are many factors in creating a new practice that are independent of your motivation.
On the other hand, the neurobiologist Thomas Boraud declared, “You can’t ‘reprogramme’ your brain at all. Besides, habits remain complex, they don’t involve the same areas of the brain and no one has the same definition.” So be patient and understanding with yourself 🙏.
Let’s forget the numbers and commit to staying the course. The good news from Phillippa Lally’s study is that even if we miss a few days, it won’t have a long-term impact. We all miss brushing our hair on a lazy night, but that doesn’t mean we live with dreadlocks!
Editor’s note: 4 tips to change your habits gently
To avoid getting discouraged and radically forgetting a bad habit, you can follow these 4 tips that will help you find your way to the new you!
1. change one habit at a time
2. set specific and quantifiable goals: Instead of “I want to write a book”, choose “I want to write 3 pages a day for 1 month” (try the gratitude journal.)
3. set up a ritual by doing this habit at the same time of the day
4. plan a small, well-deserved reward a month or two after you start your habit change
There you have it, you know the rules for making a new start, but it’s not always easy, you get discouraged, you give up, you feel guilty, you think you suck…
🤗 Understanding yourself, accepting yourself, being happy... It’s here and now!
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