21 Days Habit Theory: Truth You Need To Know
6 Minute Read

21 Days Habit Theory – The Truth You Need to Know

Written By: Lakshmi Jaisimha
1 March 2022

Aristotle once said – “We are what we repeatedly do”. The statement has been proven many times since. Our habits govern almost 50% of our daily actions. (1)

Now leaving our habits to fate isn’t wise. That’s because, if we are not conscious, we are more likely to pick bad habits due to their short-term rewards – like the taste of donuts than good habits like eating a salad. So, we need to be conscious of our habits.

This now begs the question you are here to get answered – for how many days? Is it 21?

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What Is The 21 Day Habit Theory?

We have all seen those 21-day habit quotes all over social media about how it takes 21 days to make or break your habits and change your life!

But is it true? Is 21 the magic number of days that can help us get out of our rut, get a new life – away from all the stress and negativity we have been dealing with?

If that’s true, why hasn’t the world changed yet? After all, it’s a pretty small number of days we need to commit to.

Before we get to the truth, it’s crucial to know who said it takes 21 days to form a habit. It was a plastic surgeon Dr. Maxwell Maltz. (2)

In the 1950s, Dr. Maltz started noticing a pattern in most of his patients. He observed that whether he did a nose job or a leg amputation, it would take about 21 days for the patient to get used to the changes. He then did some experimentation himself and found that it takes a minimum of 21 days to form any new behaviors.

He mentioned his findings in his book Psycho-Cybernetics – A New Way To Get More Living Out Of Life.

But as time went by and more and more self-help gurus started quoting Dr. Maltz, the statement got shortened the wrong way.

These days everyone says, the 21-day habit theory is that it takes 21 days to form a habit. But you should know, that the doctor clearly mentioned a “minimum of 21” in his book.

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Is The 21 Days Habit Rule True?

It is not. It does not take exactly 21 days to create or break a habit. Although, it may take somewhere around that time.

The reason why not every habit takes 21 days to build is that habit formation depends on many factors. Some of these are:

  • Your personality/mindset: 

For instance, you wish to create a habit of going to the gym. But if you have a fear of getting judged by others at the gym, you will have a hard time making yourself go there regularly and then a harder time working out.

Now, you can still make the habit of exercising and get over your fear of getting judged in the process, but it may take more than 21 days.

  • The size of the habit you choose: 

James Clear – the author of the book Atomic Habits, says the action you wish to repeat and make into a habit should be very easy. It should ideally take no more than 2 minutes if you are just starting your journey of habit formation.

The idea is to make the action so small that you will do it no matter what.

But if you choose to go running for 30 minutes daily, when you don’t even run for a minute, you will need more than 21 days to make the habit.

  • Your environment: 

If you are trying to eat healthily but have several packs of candy, chips, and other processed food stashed in your house, you will have a tough time committing to the habit.

You will need to get rid of every unhealthy item from your environment. Also, make sure junk food isn’t accessible easily to order online and make healthy diet plans like the 7-day Indian keto plan we have for you. All this will increase your chances of creating this habit in 21 days.

  • Your willpower: 

Someone who is not emotionally powerful may not have enough willpower to build a habit as fast as 21 days.

Now, the reasons for your weak emotional health can be many. It can be past trauma, a negative environment, or bad relationships affecting your willpower.

So, if you wish to make or break a habit in 21 days, you should ensure that all your mental energy stays preserved for this one habit you wish to build.

  • Your ‘why’:

Motivation is necessary whenever you try to achieve something. And your reason behind doing certain things is your biggest motivation.

But if you don’t have a significant reason, if the habit you are working on isn’t bringing you much to gain from, you are less likely to stick to it. And therefore it will take more than 21 days to form.

One example is flossing your teeth. Yes, it is healthy. But it doesn’t bring life-changing results, unlike exercising daily or practicing intermittent fasting.

  • Accountability system: 

If you are the only one monitoring your habits, it is easy to get off track. After all, you can always give in to excuses like “I am tired”, “I had a bad day”, etc. and not do the task you assigned yourself. In that case, just 21 days of ‘on and off’ habit-building may not be enough.

However, if you try tactics – like paying $100 to that person you hate every time you miss engaging in the habit, you are more likely to succeed and stick to the whole 21 days.

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How Many Days Does It Actually Take To Build A Habit?

In an attempt to investigate habit formation in everyday life, a study was conducted. 96 volunteers practiced the same behavior daily for 12 weeks. This included eating and drinking as well.

The results were far from what we would expect. Participants took an average of 18 to 254 days to make their habits 95% automatic. (3)

As you can see, this is a wide range. And that’s because habit formation depends on many factors, some of which are explained above.

But we do have the answer now. 66 days is the average amount of time it takes for a new behavior to become automatic.

Wrapping Up

It may take you 21 days to make or break habits and change your life for good if those habits are tiny and uncomplicated. Or because you have a habit of building habits.

But if you are new to consciously making habits, or engaging in life-changing behaviors that require more effort, you should expect to take about 66 days to make any action second nature for you.

Which habit are you going to build now? Comment below!

Is it true that 21 days make a habit?

No, 21 days is the minimum number of days required to build a habit, according to Dr. Maltz – the surgeon who came up with this theory.

What is the 21 days rule?

The 21 days habit theory says it takes 21 days to make a new habit or break an old one.

Why does it take 21 days to make a habit?

Doing something for just 21 days doesn’t necessarily make it a habit. The average number of days required for that is 66. If someone does make a habit in 21 days, it is because the habit is too easy or tiny to make.

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