21 Day Fix, 21 Day Kickstart, 21 Day Sugar Detox, Transforming Habits in 21 Days, Quit Complaining for 21 Days, How to do Anything in 21 Days… A quick Google search can show you that just about anything can be achieved if you work toward it for 21 days. But, what is so magical about this three-week timeframe?
We’ve often heard if you want to make a new habit stick, you need to do it every day for 21 days. Heck, as a counselor I’ve encouraged this; but, who told us this in the first-place? Why do we believe that we can be transformed in 21 days? What is the magic of 21 days?
It turns out the 21 day timeframe is a myth. There isn’t any research out there to support behavior change occurring in 21 days. The origin of the myth of 21 days comes from Dr. Maxwell Maltz, a plastic surgeon, who wrote Psycho-Cybernetics in 1960. Bet that wasn’t the answer you were expecting.
Dr. Maltz was interested in helping others improve their self-images. He is considered to be the founding father of the self-help book industry. In Psycho-Cybernetics, he shared the observation that after approximately 21 days, his surgical patients were typically able to let go of their pre-surgery mental images and accept their new appearance. From that, a myth was born. Countless other authors, motivational speakers, and self-improvement gurus have passed on his message that change happens in 21 days.
It does seem surprising that we put so much faith in this 21 day timeframe. The concept is based only on observation, not research. In 2010, actual research was done. Phillippa Lally, published a study in the European Journal of Social Psychology on the formation of health habits. In a 12-week study, Lally found that, on average, it takes 66 days for a new behavior to feel automatic. That’s three times longer than the suggested 21 days.
I don’t share this to discourage your efforts to make change. 21 days can feel achievable, and it is a great timeframe to test drive new behaviors and begin to notice benefits. Lasting change takes time. Change in 21 days truly is magic.
Kate N., MS, CEAP, joined Empathia in 2005 as an EAP Counselor, then became a Performance Specialist in 2012. Kate has a master’s degree in Educational Psychology and is devoted to helping individuals determine how to make lasting changes. Prior to joining Empathia, she worked in the social work field as a case manager for Child Protective Services. Kate enjoys baking, yoga and escaping into the woods of Northern Wisconsin.