why does it take 21 days to break a habit
The surprising (and to some, alarming) answer to this question is that it's altogether possible none of us ever truly "breaks" a habit in the sense we mean by the term. To understand why, it helps to think through what a habit really is. We experience habits as patterns of thought and behavior imbued with automaticity. Automaticitya sort of internal momentum that no longer needs overt, conscious fuel to keep goingis the result of learning. And in effect that's exactly what a habit is: the logical outcome of learning something, whether or not that something is beneficial or dangerous. Learning is a powerful dynamic in brains across species, particularly in the human brain. Neural patterns are established within the structure of the brain that underpin whatever we've learned, and once established, they're not easily changed. Rather than "breaking" those patterns, what we're really trying to do when facing a difficult habit is redirecting energy around them or deny the patterns the external fuel that keeps their supporting neural networks from activating and strengthening.
Many people who "break" a gambling habit, for example, say they never lose the urge to gamble (the pattern is still there), but they've learned to redirect their mental (and quite often physical) energy in other ways, while also not exposing themselves to situations that fuel the urge. Because our brains are such proficient learners, the habit challenge is inherently difficult, and how long it takes for any given person to overcome ingrained patterns is case-specific. What's important to remember, however, is that thanks to neuroplasticity the brain's ability to adapt and adjust at the level of neural connectionswe have the inbuilt tools to do it. P
IБm working on my Project, and! EveryoneБs project will look different, but itБs the rare person who canБt benefit. Join in -- no need to catch up, just jump in right now.
In my research on happiness, I keep running into the assertion that it takes twenty-one days to develop a new habit -- but IБve always had my doubts about the validity that number. First, when it comes to developing a bad habit, two repetitions is probably enough. Order a doughnut with your coffee on Monday morning and Tuesday morning, and youБll probably find it very hard to resist ordering a doughnut on Wednesday. Second, at least for me, twenty-one days isn't nearly long enough to form a good habit. For my happiness project, I tried for many weeks to get in the habit of keeping a food journal, and I failed and gave up, and then tried again, and I never could get in the habit. Flossing is a challenge Б though all the suggestions from these has improved my flossing rate, I must say. Even writing in my, which I enjoy doing, isn't really quite habitual yet. Because IБve always questioned that often-repeated statistic, I was very interested to read Oliver BurkemanБs article, According to a recent, a daily action like eating fruit at lunch or running for fifteen minutes took an average of sixty-six days to become as much of a habit as it would ever become.
However, there was a lot of variation, both among people and among habits Б some people are more habit-resistant than others, and some habits are harder to pick up than others. I found this study reassuring. My difficulty in picking up certain habits wasn't unusual. Fact is, habits are hard to alter, and thatБs why developing a good habit is really worth the struggle; once youБre used to making your bed each morning, or going for an evening walk, or flossing, you donБt have to exert much to keep it up. The study also showed that if you miss a day here or there when youБre trying to develop a habit, it doesnБt derail the process, so donБt get discouraged if you canБt keep a perfect track record.
But the first days seem to make the biggest difference, so itБs worth trying to be particularly diligent at the beginning of the attempted-habit-acquisition process. What do you think? What has been your experience in developing habits? How long has it taken, and what tricks have you found to help yourself acquire -- or kick -- a habit? * I've always been fascinated by bees and ants (also slightly terrified of ants, having read The Once and Future King at an impressionable age), and was amazed by this of fire ants forming a raft to float down a river. * Interested in starting your own happiness project? If youБd like to take a look at my personal Resolutions Chart, for inspiration, just email me at grubin, then the БatБ sign, then gretchenrubin dot com. (Sorry about writing it in that roundabout way; IБm trying to thwart spammers. ) Just write БResolutions ChartБ in the subject line.
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