These are the Myths of Habit Creation
Be sure to read Habit Hacks: HabitHAX™ Part 1 for an introduction to habit hacks – tools to streamline your creation of new, positive habits to help you achieve your full potential. In fact, EVERY successful person you can think of relied on habit creation to reach that success. In both your personal and your professional life, your ability to create new good habits – and to break bad habits – is the key to reaching you full potential.
Habit Myths That Will Frustrate You
But whenever you ask about how to create new habits, you will encounter myths. They are so widespread they have become unquestioned dogma. Don’t let these myths sidetrack you from your success journey, your habit-quest.
The following are the four most common Myths of Habit Creation. This is Chapter 1 of the new Sacred Herbals eBook, “HabitHAX: Tips & Tools for Your Habit-Quest, available to Sacred Herbals HealthHAX™ UNLIMITED Members.
These myths comprise Chapter 1 of our eBook because these myths are so insidious and so detrimental to your success.
That’s right: this is a MYTH!!
This misunderstanding started with a popular book published in 1960 by Dr. Maxwell Maltz. Dr. Maltz was practicing plastic surgery, and noted that it took his patients at least 21 days to adjust to seeing their new face following surgery. Having a curious intellect, these observations prompted him to contemplate how people adjust to new situations and behaviors, and he began to consider his own adjustments, his own behaviors … his own habits. In writing about his thoughts Dr. Maltz concluded that, “… it requires a minimum of about 21 days for an old mental image to dissolve, and a new one to gel.”
Maltz published his thoughts in his popular book, Psycho-Cybernetics, which is the “science of self-improvement and success that has changed the lives of 30 Million people.”
Unfortunately, that simple generalization – “a minimum of about 21 days” grew into dogma, as decades of self-help gurus from Brian Tracy to Tony Robbins simplified and reduced Maltz’s observation to “21 days.” This is the origin of the popular misconception, “It takes 21 days to form a new habit.”
Remember this – Dr. Maltz was mostly correct: it requires a MINIMUM of ABOUT 21 days to form a new habit.
In fact, there is no magic number. There are some habits that you might be able to form seemingly overnight; there will be some habits that require many weeks or months (or even years) of determined effort to create. There are HAX that you can implement to shorten the time to habit formation, as we will discuss.
And I don’t mean to disparage Dr. Maltz’s book. It’s an excellent read. The point is that his generalization of a “minimum of about 21 days” was over-simplified by others, and grew into dogma over time. That simplified version evolved into the myth. And, in that simplified form, it’s just plain wrong!
Is there any real data on how long it takes to form new habits?
Glad you asked: A group at University College London studied habit formation in 96 people. Detailing their findings in the European Journal of Social Psychology in 2009, they reported that it took anywhere from 18 days to 254 days for people to form one new habit!
Let me say that again: a minimum of 18 days, and as long as 254 days, to form a new habit.
The average time it took for a new behavior pattern to become automatic – that is, to become a regular habit – was 66 days! Keep that number in mind when you sign-on for some 21-day habit challenge (like this one), and somewhere around the 23rd day you begin to worry that you’ve failed when you haven’t reached your goal: you’re not even half way to the average time for creating a new habit! Of course, depending on the habit you’re trying to develop, you may be able to form a new habit in less time; but it very likely will take more time.
And when I “fail” – whether it’s trying to create a new habit, or trying to create a new business – I am reassured by these two geniuses:
“Success is not built on success … it’s built on failure.” Summer Redstone
“Make all the mistakes you can, because remember: that’s where you’ll find success – on the far side of failure.” Thomas J. Watson
HabitHAX™ – don’t berate yourself for back-sliding into a comfortable old (bad) habit, or failing to stick with a new positive habit. Expect it, you’re human! Don’t despair if you wander off your envisioned path to success: figure it out (see MYTH #2); adjust; and get back on the path.
This is more dogma; this dogma developed from Stephen Covey’s excellent book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The late, great Stephen Covey provided us with inspiring guidance on developing our principles of integrity and dignity, but even he recognized that there are more than seven habits used by the successful.
The fact is, highly successful people have any number of different habits that have helped them on their path to success.
Then what’s the key? It’s knowledge:
According to Gretchen Rubin, “There is no magic, one-size-fits-all solution for habits. Some successful people stay up late, some go to bed early … You can point to a hugely successful person who has just about any set of habits you can think of. But here’s the one thing that all those successful people have in common: they know the habits that work for them, and they make sure that that’s how they live their lives.”
HabitHAX™ – do your due-diligence. Find the habits that have worked for those who serve as your role-models. Those habits may also work for you, but they may not. Each of us is unique. Find the habits that will move you along your path to your goal, along your path to success. Study those habits, how they apply to your life. What are the triggers, actions, behaviors, and rewards for those habits as applied to your life? Own those habits. Make those habits your life and you will reach your full potential!
Habit MYTH #3: “If You Fail to Break a Bad Habit (or fail to form a good habit) More Than Once, You’re Doomed to Fail”
Common belief holds that if, after several attempts, you fail to form a new habit, or to break a bad habit, it means that you’re simply doomed to fail; that it just wasn’t meant to be, and that you’ll never develop (or break) that habit.
The truth? Again, it’s knowledge – use our HabitHAX™:
Understanding the triggers and actions for your habit (refer to the Habit Loop, Chapter 2), anticipating hurdles that you may face, and having a plan to get back on the path to your goals when you stray off the path (not if), are all keys to your success. Understand that straying from the path – whether failing to form a new positive habit, or failing to break an old bad habit – is common. That knowledge, and your knowledge of habit formation, can help you prevent future lapses.
It’s a common belief that, when you are trying to form a new habit, whether your goal is to chisel your body into rippled stone, or finally write that novel you’ve been dreaming of, you should share your goal with family and friends. It makes sense, right? Share your goals for encouragement, feedback and accountability. Here are just a few quotes from websites of popular “goal achievement experts”:
- “To achieve your goals, share them widely with others.”
- “Sharing your goal with others is vital to your success.”
- “Share your goals with family and friends.”
- “Sharing your goals with your family, friends and peers can be a powerful motivational tool to push you through to goal accomplishment.”
This is simply more unfortunate dogma, similar to the “21-days” myth. The truth seems like a paradox, and is interesting:
Our HabitHAX™ help overcome this myth:
All of the studies comparing people who shared their goals to those who kept quiet clearly suggest that sharing your goals sabotages your success! Instead of making us feel accountable, having our goals acknowledged by friends and family, telling people our intentions “gives us a premature sense of completeness,” according to studies by Dr. Peter Gollwitzer. He suggests that telling others about our goals, and having them acknowledge those goals, gives our brain a premature sense of satisfaction, reducing our drive to actually complete the goal. Gollwitzer has many studies to back up that notion, and his work is the basis for the recommendation to keep you goals to yourself if you want to succeed!
HabitHAX™ – If you must share your goals with friends or family, don’t look for the “congratulations!” and “you go, girl/boy!” Instead, use it as an opportunity for accountability: tell your friend to kick your ass if you don’t follow through on your stated goal. Me? I don’t tell anyone; works for me.
There are other myths concerning habit formation, but the four shared here are the most widespread, and frankly detrimental to your success.
In my opinion the key to successful habit formation is, as with all things in life, knowledge. Understanding the scientific basis for creating new, positive, lasting behavior patterns, is the key to successful habit formation.
That is, knowledge and understanding are the ultimate HAX.
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