Day 21. Traditionally the number of days associated with changing a habit.
Why 66 days instead of 21?
The popular belief that it takes 21 days to start or change a habit has its origins in the work of plastic surgeon, Maxwell Maltz. His fascinating work with his patients is recorded in his book, Psycho-cybernetics (1960) which sold over 30 million copies. He realised that, despite making changes to a patient’s outward appearance, the images and perceptions they held of themselves did not change immediately. He noticed a pattern. It took a minimum of 21 days for patients to internalise the changes to their outward appearance.
A minimum of 21 days. Not 21 days.
The minimum number also rises with the perceived difficulty of the change and the amount of choice you have in whether or not to stick with it. For example, if you have to to get up an hour earlier because you have a new job with a longer commute, it’ll probably take less time to embed that habit than it would to get up an hour earlier so you can go to the gym before work.
More recent research, carried out Phillipa Lally, Cornelia Jaarsveld, Henry Potts and Jane Wardle at University College London in 2009, found that students took on average 66 days to change a habit, with the number rising in line with the difficulty of the change. Admittedly, there were only 96 participants in the study so we can hardly write the findings in stone but I figured if I want to take a decent stab at this, I’ll go for the bigger number. Can’t hurt, right?
On day 2, I could barely remember the beginning of a sentence by the time I reached the end. On day 10, my memory felt stronger and I began to relax my fears about early onset Alzheimer’s. Last week, I ran a training course for 12 delegates. I can still remember the names of 8 people and I remember where everyone sat.
I am FAR less shouty. I started to notice this change on Day 10 but wasn’t sure whether or not I was just having a good day. I feel confident saying I’m becoming more patient.
3. I am more in touch with my emotions and memories
Last week, I had an emotional meeting in relation to my daughter. To help her make sense of her story so far, she attends play therapy and the therapist shared some of her observations with me. The meeting triggered feelings in me that I associate with childhood and have left me massively unsettled yet strangely calm and curious. I’m spending time writing and being still as I attempt to make sense of where these feelings are coming from and what memories they’re attached to. It’s the first time I’ve felt this triggered and still felt ok enough to manage myself through it.
4. I’m not using guided meditation anymore
I set up my own timer this morning instead of using a guided meditation track on YouTube. It made a huge difference to my ability to concentrate. I’d still say I struggled to concentrate – the timer wasn’t set up perfectly so that didn’t help – but my focus was way better than it’s been on previous days.
What hasn’t changed?
- I still have to force myself to do it
Despite the obvious benefits, it doesn’t feel like a habit yet. I still have to push myself to do it. That said, I think I’d notice if I didn’t do it so the habit is certainly beginning to embed. It should be pretty solid by the time I reach the 66 day mark.