It takes 21 days to change a habit or to form a new one.
I hope I'm not revealing a big secret when I tell you that this is BS 😉
To support my BS claim I want to tell you a story which I picked up and goes something like this:
A guy named Maxwell Maltz wrote a book called Psycho-Cybernetics in 1960. He was a plastic surgeon in the 1950s when he began noticing a strange pattern among his patients.
When Dr. Maltz would perform an operation — like a nose job, for example — he found that it would take the patient about 21 days to get used to seeing their new face. Similarly, when a patient had an arm or a leg amputated, Maltz noticed that the patient would sense a phantom limb for about 21 days before adjusting to the new situation.
These experiences prompted Maltz to think about his own adjustment period to changes and new behaviours, and he noticed that it also took himself about 21 days to form a new habit. Maltz wrote about these experiences and said, “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.”
In 1960, Maltz published that quote and his other thoughts on behaviour change in a book called Psycho-Cybernetics. The book went on to become a blockbuster hit, selling more than 30 million copies.
And that’s when the problem started. You see, in the decades that followed, Maltz’s work influenced nearly every major “self-help” professional from Zig Ziglar to Brian Tracy to Tony Robbins. And as more people recited Maltz’s story — like a very long game of “Telephone” — people began to forget that he said “a minimum of about 21 days” and shortened it to, “It takes 21 days to form a new habit.”
And that’s how society started spreading the common myth that it takes 21 days to form a new habit (or 30 days or some other magic number). It’s remarkable how often these timelines are quoted as statistical facts.
Dangerous lesson: If enough people say something enough times, then everyone else starts to believe it.
I'm here to help if you want to form new habits in your job search or career change. Being consistent and attending to it every single day is massively important. To stay motivated and keep doing it sometimes requires a professional cheerleader, even for longer than 21 days.
My next blog will be about 22 - Catch-22 😉