What does it take to form a habit that lasts?

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 physical action of brushing your teeth every morning has became an automatic reflex – 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.

brain-cogsTHE 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. Their research found that it takes anywhere from 18 days to 8 months to form a habit, depending on the complexity of the behavioral change.

Brain-habit research also shows that dopamine, the feel-good chemical that reinforces habits, increases more with the prospect of imminent reward, greatly enhancing successful habit formation.