Why Creating “Sticky” Habits Isn’t A 21 Day Project?

Why Creating "Sticky" Habits Isn't A 21 Day Project?

Why Habits Stick?

We are certainly creatures of habits. I would even go so far as to say that much of what we do is anchored into our subconscious mind and it’s pretty hard to break. It’s not impossible, it’s just it takes consistent effort with awareness.

Like many people in the self-help industry, I’ve touted the 21 days to a new habit theory. While it certainly sounds good and gets people excited, it’s also not true. I want to nip that falsity in the bud right now. Drop it like a ‘hot potato!’ While the 21 day rule to a new habit works with a few individuals (and most likely those that have a high level of focused concentration), for the majority, it doesn’t quite fit the bill.



Habits Take Time To Master:

In a 2009 study, by researcher Phillippa Lally and others of the Medical Research Council where they discovered, that a new habit could take anywhere from 18 days to as much as 254 days to form- the mean being 66 days. In a sense, the habit is about getting each person into doing it automatically, sort of like being on “autopilot.” Repetition of the desired behavior in a consistent manner mattered. It’s not so much that a day was missed as much as simply the continuation of doing it until it became automatic that counted. Again, not everyone reached that state at the same time.

There are many factors in which a new habit is formed and it’s the kind of actions taken that helps make it happen. I’m going to give several suggestions that will help you get on the road to forming a new habit the best way (as well as scientific-based)…

  • Start with a goal in mind and create a plan based on it.  Like anything else in life, goals work.  If you don’t know where you’re going, then you’ll never get there.  Habits are no exception.  We all need direction.  Give the habit you want the same thing.
  • Keep it simple.  Don’t try to complicate things.  In fact, in the 2009 Lally study as well as a 2008 study, those that formed new habits the fastest focused on one thing at a time.
  • Anchor the new behavior you want to something in the environment.  It may be a cue for you to use that behavior.  For example, if you tend to engage in something unhealthy at certain times of the day, instead, catch yourself and replace it with a healthy behavior.  At this time, awareness counts.
  • Give yourself a reward if the new behavior is hard to do.  Heck, we’re all humans and rewards work in that case.  We want something that makes us feel good about ourselves.  Eventually, you won’t have to give yourself reward when it becomes easier to do.
  • Use a journal.  Every time you do a certain behavior that you want to form as new habit, write it down.  The more you do this, the more you become aware of how fast you’re progressing.  It will be right there, in black and white, of how the habit is starting to become more automatic.  Also, you will note when you miss a day.  Even though consistency counts, missing a day won’t hurt the formulation of new habit.
  • Have some sort of accountability system.  That means having others who can help keep you on track.  It can be daunting if you’re trying to do it on your own.  A coach, friend or co-worker can keep you going until the behavior you want becomes automatic.  They can help lift you up when you need it as well as challenge you until you get it.



Habits that you have now came from a lifetime of development and it’s not going to be an overnight process to form a new, positive one to replace the negative ones.  It can be done.  Follow the tips above and make sure to get help as needed.  You can do it, so DO IT!