You're 21 Days In — Now What?

You know what they say: it takes 21 days to make or break a habit. Well, we're 21 days into the month of January, so, ostensibly, if you've been sticking to your new year goals (for the most part), you should pretty much be set up for a year of success. Right?

Um, well, yes. And maybe not.

The ‘21 Day’ Myth

As it turns out, the whole '21 days' thing is bogus. Most people believe that the misinterpretation stemmed from a book published in the 1960 by plastic surgeon Maxwell Maltz, who's observations lead him to the conclusion that it took patients 21 days to become accustomed to their new faces. That's it. Nothing was said about breaking old habits or making new ones, but, a historical litany of intentional or subconscious misinterpretations has taught us (hello, Jimmy Carter propositioning Poland!), people will believe what they want to believe. And when they can believe something that is actually quite challenging can be really easy, well...it's not difficult to see why the whole 21 days thing gained so much traction.

How many days does it actually take to form a new habit?

According to an impressively rigorous recent study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, anywhere from 18 days to 254 days. This engulfing range may not be every comforting for people who are looking for a set answer, but for any of us who have actually successfully made or broken a habit (and usually you can't do one with the other), you've got to admit: it rings truer. Depending on what habit you are trying to change, it could take a very short time, or, it could take the better part of a year.

What this wide range also means, however, is that if you can't seem to turn your diet, exercise or other lifestyle habits around in 21 days, you're not a failure. You're simply still in the thick of the throes of making lasting change. Keep going. Even if you fall of track, pushing on means you'll be trending forward.

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