The saying ‘It takes 21 days to form a new habit’ was derived from Maxwell Maltz’s medical and social observations in the 1950s. The observations were published in his 1960 bestselling book, “Psycho-Cybernetics”. The book became a major influence in various self-help books. In order to understand the context and usage of the phrase, “It takes 21 days to form a new habit”, we will explore the answers to a few questions.
Who was Maxwell Maltz?
Maxwell Maltz was an American surgeon who specialized in general and cosmetic surgery. In his line of work, he noticed that after performing an operation such a face reconstruction, it normally took patients about 21 days to get used to their new looks. He also noticed that even where patients had limb amputations, the amputees generally felt phantom limbs for the same period of time.
The term psycho-cybernetics is derived from two words: psycho and cybernetics. The term psycho in this case is used as a prefix inferring to matters related to the mind and psychology. On the other hand, the term cybernetics implies the science of communication between systems and living beings.
The title of Maxwell Maltz’s book ‘Psycho-Cybernetics’ is therefore an analysis of how the mind and body functions in the change and acceptance of certain behaviors.
The acceptance of the change in looks and lack of the amputated limbs was as a result of mental conditioning.
Interpretation of The Book
Maxwell, also conducted a research on his own behavior patterns and realized that, it generally took a period of 21 days for certain habits to become his way of life. In his assessment of the situation, he pointed out that the body generally reacts according to how the mind perceives certain things.
For most actions, the mind kind of programs the body to react in a certain way in certain situations. In the case of amputees, the body is previously used to having all organs. Therefore, feelings of pain in the phantom limbs are as a result of the body’s conditioning. The mind (psycho-) has to work in tandem with the body (cybernetics) for a total behavior change (acceptance of the absence of the amputee limb).
Real Life Applications of Psycho-Cybernetics
In real life, there are various body reactions that occur naturally after repeated action. For instance, when you are used to waking up at a certain time, chances are even without an alarm, you are bound to wake up at the exact same time the body is used to.
In Maxwell’s book, it is pointed out that our perception of things also affects how we respond to different situations. If you tend to think that other people are gossiping about you, chances are that you will become shy or adopt an attitude of indifference towards them. If you adopt the mentality that in this world everyone is after his or her own interest without caring about others, there is a high chance that you will be skeptical when someone approaches you for help.
The imaginations and thought processes adopted by a person often condition his or her own actions. All it takes is for one to think about certain things and the body soon adapts to the line of thought. The 21 days is typically the amount of time that the body and mind takes to be synchronized and to forget the bad habit and adopt a new one.
In his writing, Maxwell did not intend to categorically point out that it specifically takes 21 days to change a habit. Rather, he meant to point out that 21 days is the minimum amount of time one takes to change or adopt a new habit.
There is Hope
Other researchers have conducted a research on the same issue on how long it takes for one to forget or form a new habit. In 2009, a research involving 96 participants indicated that for different people, the period of change varied from 18 days to 254 days.
These findings imply that, it all depend on someone’s mental conditioning and how much they are willing to adopt a certain change. This means that all it takes is a will and enough practice to achieve something. So, if you were intending on changing your physical fitness, it all depends on how much you are willing to invest in it mentally and physically. Taking a bottle of water with you everywhere you go may make you to become health conscious for instance and this may make you to be cautious on what you consume.
It is important not to give up. Even when a certain goal fails, even when you try to quit certain bad habits, it is very important not to give up. Let your mind realize your goals, the trials and errors will be forms of mental flexing and ultimately, you will be able to fully withdraw from a bad habit, or more quickly adopt a new one.