Timing to Build a Habit

on May 9, 2017

How many of you have ever started a New Years Resolution great, only to have it fall apart two weeks later? Or start a fad diet for a few days before totally forgetting it existed?

Fortunately this is a common question that people have been pondering for decades. One of the first books published on this topic was from 1960, by a cosmetic surgeon named Dr. Maxwell Martz. He would focus on how long it took people to get used to a new nose or stop missing a ‘phantom limb’ after an amputation. He used these observations from his practice to determine that it took 21 days to build up a habit. His book sold 30 million copies and became the basis for many motivational speakers’ lectures on formation of good habits.

However, another more recent study refuted the brevity of that timespan. The problem, author Lally and her team argued, was that people misquoted Dr. Martz and changed “it takes a minimum of 21 days” to “it takes 21 days” to establish a habit. This team had 96 people attempt a new habit and record the results in a journal over a 12 week span. These habits ranged from having water at lunch instead of soda to doing 50 pushups first thing in the morning. The timing to develop a new habit ranged from 18 to 254 days, with the average being determined at 66 days.

The range in the results resulted from different variables – such as how difficult the task was. Another factor that can affect it is what type of person you are – are you strict and fastidious or impulsive and lazy? These can all affect how long it takes a conscious, concerted effort to be transported to your subconscious brain.

A perfect example of this is your oral homecare. Most people don’t even think about brushing their teeth, when in reality it is a somewhat difficult and coordinated motor skill. This is because most people practiced this everyday as young children, while the brain still has a great deal of plasticity. Flossing, on the other hand, may not be as widely encouraged. This results in adults that all of a sudden have to develop a daily skill to keep in between their teeth clean. So just two short months of practicing flossing everyday can result in a healthy, happy mouth for the rest of your life.

SDManageTiming to Build a Habit