The Reality of Developing Positive Habits

Updated: Apr 2


How often have you heard the statistic that it takes 21 days to form a new habit? It's been stated lots in posts on social media across the board.

However, this figure is wildly wrong. The notion of 21 days appears to have originated in 1960 in the self-help book "Psycho Cybernetics, A New Way to Get More Living Out of Life" by Dr. Maxwell Maltz. In reality, it takes much longer, at least treble that number, and even that can depend on how complex the habit is.


To make something a habit you have to repeat the same thing until it becomes something that you do with unconscious competence (having worked through unconscious incompetence, conscious incompetence and conscious competence to get there) or it becomes something that you physically crave, like working-out or running. With strong discipline it is possible to feel that your new gym habit is developed after only 3 weeks, but how easy is it for that slip? A few days of late nights at work or days away from the gym because you are travelling or sick and you are either making excuses not to go or digging deep for more discipline to keep going. If this was truly habitual your body and mind would be craving the gym on the days you miss it and it would to take a herd of wild horses to hold you back from your next workout.


More recent research* in 2009 shows that it takes a minimum of 66 days for behaviour to become automatic, to create a new habit. Furthermore, if you are reprogramming a negative habit, it takes longer to clear the path before the new habit can start to be programmed into your life. All this is assuming that you manage to stay on track consistently for 66 days or more, the more days you miss in the process the longer this will take.


The process of changing negative habits also involves a biochemical change, our bodies become accustomed to the chemicals released due to negative thoughts and resist when a different set of happy chemicals starts to circulate, thus increasing the amount of discipline needed to surpass the natural resistance. This is why many people give up. Good intentions move you to starting on the path and you move into conscious incompetence, the realisation of what you don't know, or realisation of how much you need to do, which is the hardest stage to work through and where most people quit.


When you take the development of unconscious competence to the extremes, in terms of being a top musician or 8th Dan martial artist, perfecting your skills at an unconscious level, becomes almost continuous as you hone those skills day after day.


There is some good news..... conscious incompetence is the stage at which you are most likely experience frustration, because you are having to push through old habits, a body accustomed to a set of biochemicals you are now trying to replace, and nice doses of self-sabotage, procrastination and thoughts of "I can't do this" to overcome. Why is frustration good news? When you experience frustration and push through it there is an increase in the amount of myelin, the insulating layer, or sheath, that forms around nerves, in the brain and an increase of myelin has been scientifically linked to higher intelligence.


Knowing the amount of time it takes to create new habits and truly embed them into your unconscious or your belief system, when it comes to mindset shifts for example, it highlights the difficulty to attain these changes through self-discipline alone and why accountability and peer group make such an impact to the success rate in personal transformation. It also demonstrates why you need to, firstly find and, commit to the right course. A short term, one-week or freebie course can help a decision to make change or have a short term boost in mindset or motivation, but to attain a lasting transformation you need to work through understanding the how and the why, then start breaking down the old habits and negative thinking and replace them with positive habits and positive thinking, with the right tools, techniques and exercises as well as the accountability to hold you in the momentum for the months of discipline required.


This is exactly why the EMF is structured to provide a foundational understanding and a proven set of techniques over a period of six months with the accountability of me, as your coach, and a peer group of like minded people traveling on a similar journey to help you get the best possible results.


*Phillippa Lally, a health psychology researcher at University College London, published a study in the European Journal of Social Psychology on just how long it actually takes to form a habit. (https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/ejsp.674, https://www.ucl.ac.uk/news/2009/aug/how-long-does-it-take-form-habit)

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