Dictionary definitions of habit include: an acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary; a regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up. In other words, repetition of the same physical action can eventually become an automatic reflex. Habits are repeated actions that ultimately help people achieve their goals.
But to establish a habit you must have a specific set of actions that are performed with focus, consistency, and accountability. The purpose of this 21 day fitness challenge is to make exercise and other healthy behaviors, habits that you will stick with for the rest of your life. Think about how you acquired the habit of brushing your teeth. Do you ever stand at the sink and say, “I have a busy day, I think I’ll skip brushing today and just brush my teeth longer tomorrow.” No, you don’t. Why? Because the action of brushing your teeth became a habit.
Though there is no solid scientific evidence for applying a specific number of days necessary to form a habit, Dr. Maxwell Maltz, M.D. developed a theory that 21 days played a key role in habit formation, based on his work as a plastic surgeon rehabilitating amputees. He noticed that on average, after daily therapy, it took 21 days for the amputees to adjust to the loss of a limb. He then postulated that brain circuits produce neuroconnections and neuropathways only if they are bombarded for 21 days in a row. His book, Psycho-Cybernetics, was published in 1960, and was a best seller.
THE BRAIN PATTERNS OF HABIT
Ann Graybiel and her group at the McGovern Institute at MIT have done extensive research on how the brain forms habits, showing that “habit formation appears to be an innate ability that is fine-tuned by experience — specifically, the costs and rewards of certain choices.”
Psychological research on habit forming was published in the European Journal of Social Psychology. Phillippa Lally and colleagues from University College London recruited 96 people who were interested in forming a new habit. Participants were then asked daily how automatic their chosen behaviors felt. These questions included things like whether the behavior was “hard not to do” and could be done “without thinking”. When the researchers examined the different habits, they found it varied, going up and down, and eventually reaching a plateau after 66 days. In other words, it had become as much of a habit as it was ever going to become. Although the average was 66 days, it took anywhere from 18 days to 8 months, proving that not everyone reacts the same when it comes to establishing habits.