You’ve probably seen them online, 21 days to build a habit challenge. And if they haven’t worked for you, you’re not alone.
It is unclear where this 21 days habit myth came from. But as today it is now a an urban legend passed down as common knowledge.
The closest we have of a source to this myth is a book published in 1960 by Maxwell Maltz, a plastic surgeon dealing with many facial reconstructions and amputations caused by the world war. In his book, Maxwell observes that people who just had a facial reconstruction operation had a difficult time recognizing their own face, and that it would take them about 3 weeks (21 days) to recognize their new face. Similarly, people who have recently been amputated had a “phantom limb” sensation, meaning that even though they are missing an arm, they would still have the reflex and the sensation of trying to grab things with their missing arm. Again they would adapt and loose this “phantom limb” sensation in about 3 weeks.
What does it mean for us?
In short, if your life depends on it, you might be able to develop a new habit in 21 days. For every other situation, it is most likely going to take a lot longer.
In fact, more recent research show that it takes a lot longer to build a new habit. There is no magic number as it can span from 30 days up to more than 100 days. But there seem to be an average of 67 days.
So if you are not able to build a new habit in 21 days, that’s perfectly normal. Keep going, it will most likely take you another month or two to build your habit.
Why does Challengers only have 30 day challenges?
We have tried in the past to offer longer challenges as well as shorter challenges. We stayed with 30 days as it feel like an achievable effort for most people. And if people are able to finish the first month, they often continue for another month or two.
And that’s the way Challengers was designed. Try your challenge for a month and see if that’s really what you are aiming for. Having a second chance after 30 days allows people to try it again, to adjust, and thus to stick longer working on their goal. Making them more likely to actually build a lasting habit.