How to break a bad habit in 21 days (or less)

Related Stories:

Does It Really Take 21 Days to Break a Habit? Nooo.

It is either done in a split second or never. No, it does not take 21 days.

Why? Because a habit in its basic form is a neural sequence hardcoded in your brain. The only way to “break” it is a lobotomy. You lose your brain, and you lose your habits as well.

In other words, habits are unbreakable.

However, they are changeable. You cannot break your habits, but you can manipulate them.

If a habit is a pattern saved in your brain, you can “overwrite” this pattern with a new behavior. Abstinence may be a new behavior as well.

Basics

But first, you need to understand how a habit is stored in your brain. It is saved in your neurons as a habit loop that consists of three elements: a cue that triggers a routine; a routine that follows the trigger; and an endpoint that finishes the loop; it’s often mistakenly called a reward.

Everything may be a cue: a place, time of the day, your emotional state, even words or specific events. What is more, because of the associative nature of our memory, very often the cue is the set of specific conditions. If you are bored at work, it will trigger different behavior than being bored at home.

Changing the trigger is impossible. The same set of conditions will always start the habit loop. But with your conscious intervention, you can change the routine. For example, that is what people who replace smoking cigarettes with chewing a mint gum do.

Possible Scenarios

There are several ways in which you can change your behavior so radically that it seems like you broke the habit. The change may be instantaneous. It may take just a few days when the strong impulse for change overwhelms old patterns.

With very diligent focus and high emotional charge, it may take about 21 days. Usually, the change of habit takes about as long as forming AND practicing it in the first place.

But in most cases, the habit is unscathed and it only seems like it is.

Let’s go over them one by one.

Instantaneous Change

Such a change is impossible in normal circumstances. It takes enormous external or internal force to change a person in a moment. By external, I mean divine or spiritual help that we simply don’t comprehend. Saint Paul experienced something like that on his way to Damascus (Rev. chapter 9).

There are (and were) very few people on this planet who can change their behavior in the moment of decision. For example saints, who blindly succumb to the will of their superiors and do whatever they order them to do. Or monks, who trained control over their emotional states for decades. Let’s say this is their internal power.

Sometimes it happens to ordinary people, and we call it an enlightenment.

Very Fast Change

When it requires seemingly little effort and happens in a span of a few to several days, it’s usually an enlightenment that works inside a person for a little longer than a second.

In fact, such enlightenment may work in you even for weeks before you change for good. When I read “The Slight Edge” by Jeff Olson, it took me about a month before I took different action. My approach, attitude and worldview were affected during the lecture, but I needed to ponder this change to affect my behavior.

There is also another explanation: the cue was removed from your life. One of the three ways to permanently change human behavior is change of the environment. When you move to a different city, change job or get married, your life changes so much that many old triggers disappear.

I was very proud of me when I quit playing computer games in less than a week. I thought I was self-disciplined and had an iron willpower (yes, I can be an arrogant prick).

Nope. In that week, I developed my personal mission statement and eliminated the trigger for playing: I no longer was bored, overwhelmed or aimless. The combination of those three emotions was my trigger to indulge myself in fictional achievements in computer games. When they disappeared, my old behavior disappeared as well.

Elaborated Change

If you put lots of effort into the change of your routine, you can change a habit within a few weeks. It takes lot of mindfulness and preparation, plenty of repetitions, and often, a superb emotional charge invested into a new behavior. All those factors can accelerate the change of your routine.

It can take you 15 days, 21 or 43. Anyway, after this initial period, your new routine will no longer be forced. It will become a part of your identity. When an old behavior raises its ugly head from time to time, you will be dismayed and surprised that something like this is still inside you. I’m always puzzled by my own returns to binge YouTube watching of talent shows. After such binge, I feel like someone hijacked my body and mind for a few hours.

Normal Change

It’s rare, because most people give up too early. When you decide to change your routine, you take precautions to avoid old behavior and design a new one. You repeat, repeat and repeat the new behavior, but when you put your guard down the old habits slips in unnoticed.

After some time, you realize what happened and go back to your new routine. This battle can last for years because in the end, it is about the number of repetitions.

If you smoked cigarettes for 10 years, 20 cigarettes a day, it takes 73,001 repetitions of a new habit triggered by the exact same cue to overwrite a new routine in your habit loop.

In Summary

If the habit is broken fast, it is an illusion. Either the trigger was eliminated from your life, or you experienced enlightenment that confused and reshaped your whole identity.

Enlightenment is outside of human power to control. If you only eliminated the trigger for your old habit, you’d better be aware of that. When the trigger returns, it will release your old behavior without a fault.

If you want to break a habit, you need to identify its cue and replace the old routine with the new one. If you want to make it relatively fast, let’s say in 21 days, it will take an insane amount of focus and repetitions. For 99% of people, it’s out of the question.

The best course of action, the hack, is to know yourself, know your triggers, and painstakingly eliminate them from your life. Then put your attention in creating totally new habits that will fill the void.

By Andy Thompson | Submitted On March 21, 2006

How to break a bad habit in 21 days (or less)

In her self-improvement program “Habit Busting – A 21 Day Program
to Break Any Habit” success coach Lee Milteer teaches you how
to adapt her proven step by step techniques to break painful
bad habits and reprogram yourself with positive healthy habits
for life.

Instead of reinventing the wheel, Lee teaches you how to take
proven time tested techniques and apply them to your specific
circumstance.

Though the workbook part of the course only prints out to about
52 pages and doesn’t teach anything about other methods of
breaking habits such as self hypnosis, the five CD’s included in
this program thoroughly cover what many well respected success
coaches consider the most important aspects for creating lasting
changes.

Lee Milteer is a high-energy, entertaining success coach whose
advice is full of humor, practical strategies, and a wealth of
experience. She recently received the “Entrepreneurial Woman of
the Year” award from the National Association of Women Business
Owners.

Lee has shared the stage with many well-known
personalities such as Dan Kennedy, Tony Robbins, Brian Tracy
and many well-known companies like AT&T, Ford and Disney pay
her $10,000.00’s of dollars to share her techniques with their
organizations.

In “Habit Busting – A 21 Day Program to Break Any Habit”
I found the most value in the fact that Lee doesn’t just tell
you how to use these tips to improve your life, she shows you
step-by-step how to do it.

Instead of just talking in broad
generalities she gets you totally involved and makes you
conscious of your choices and why you choose them.

This offers a truly hands-on approach like I’ve never seen in
a self-improvement program. It logically and systematically
shows you how to take proven steps to overcome painful habits
and see daily measurable progress.

Though it took a little while to convince myself that I had to
create changes internally before I could create it externally,
once I got it, I found myself able to see clearly the patterns
that led me to take these habitual mindless actions.

With a little practice even people who have failed to break their
bad habits time after time should have no problem finally
succeeding once and for all by following the step-by-step
instructions in this program.

In her sales copy, as well as the content of the program,
Milteer asserts that anyone, regardless of how many time they
have tried can use the tools she reveals to recover a host of
untapped resources and undiscovered options within themselves
to break any and all unwanted habits.

I have to admit, initially I felt a great deal of skepticism,
however, after spending the last 21 days using the program,
I see she can actually back up her claim. It is easy to see
why Lee is one of the most highly esteemed and sought after
human potential speakers and productivity coaches around.

If you invest in self-improvement products, (and you should)
all the experts pretty much agree that the first step to real
lasting success in all areas of your life begin by breaking
bad habits and replacing them with new healthy ones.
From staying motivated to seeing real results, habits
hold the key to success or failure.

If you want to quickly break even the worst bad habits like
smoking, overeating or procrastination and learn to take
conscious controlled actions that create positive changes,
and raise your self esteem, then I give “Habit Busting –
A 21 Day Program to Break Any Habit” my highest recommendation
and a 9 on a scale of 1 to 10.

Hopefully Lee will produce a follow-on program that breaks
down even more proven, life changing tactics or come out
with another product that teaches another important aspect
of self-growth in the same thorough and complete manner.

Related Stories:

Does It Really Take 21 Days to Break a Habit? Nooo.

It is either done in a split second or never. No, it does not take 21 days.

Why? Because a habit in its basic form is a neural sequence hardcoded in your brain. The only way to “break” it is a lobotomy. You lose your brain, and you lose your habits as well.

In other words, habits are unbreakable.

However, they are changeable. You cannot break your habits, but you can manipulate them.

If a habit is a pattern saved in your brain, you can “overwrite” this pattern with a new behavior. Abstinence may be a new behavior as well.

Basics

But first, you need to understand how a habit is stored in your brain. It is saved in your neurons as a habit loop that consists of three elements: a cue that triggers a routine; a routine that follows the trigger; and an endpoint that finishes the loop; it’s often mistakenly called a reward.

Everything may be a cue: a place, time of the day, your emotional state, even words or specific events. What is more, because of the associative nature of our memory, very often the cue is the set of specific conditions. If you are bored at work, it will trigger different behavior than being bored at home.

Changing the trigger is impossible. The same set of conditions will always start the habit loop. But with your conscious intervention, you can change the routine. For example, that is what people who replace smoking cigarettes with chewing a mint gum do.

Possible Scenarios

There are several ways in which you can change your behavior so radically that it seems like you broke the habit. The change may be instantaneous. It may take just a few days when the strong impulse for change overwhelms old patterns.

With very diligent focus and high emotional charge, it may take about 21 days. Usually, the change of habit takes about as long as forming AND practicing it in the first place.

But in most cases, the habit is unscathed and it only seems like it is.

Let’s go over them one by one.

Instantaneous Change

Such a change is impossible in normal circumstances. It takes enormous external or internal force to change a person in a moment. By external, I mean divine or spiritual help that we simply don’t comprehend. Saint Paul experienced something like that on his way to Damascus (Rev. chapter 9).

There are (and were) very few people on this planet who can change their behavior in the moment of decision. For example saints, who blindly succumb to the will of their superiors and do whatever they order them to do. Or monks, who trained control over their emotional states for decades. Let’s say this is their internal power.

Sometimes it happens to ordinary people, and we call it an enlightenment.

Very Fast Change

When it requires seemingly little effort and happens in a span of a few to several days, it’s usually an enlightenment that works inside a person for a little longer than a second.

In fact, such enlightenment may work in you even for weeks before you change for good. When I read “The Slight Edge” by Jeff Olson, it took me about a month before I took different action. My approach, attitude and worldview were affected during the lecture, but I needed to ponder this change to affect my behavior.

There is also another explanation: the cue was removed from your life. One of the three ways to permanently change human behavior is change of the environment. When you move to a different city, change job or get married, your life changes so much that many old triggers disappear.

I was very proud of me when I quit playing computer games in less than a week. I thought I was self-disciplined and had an iron willpower (yes, I can be an arrogant prick).

Nope. In that week, I developed my personal mission statement and eliminated the trigger for playing: I no longer was bored, overwhelmed or aimless. The combination of those three emotions was my trigger to indulge myself in fictional achievements in computer games. When they disappeared, my old behavior disappeared as well.

Elaborated Change

If you put lots of effort into the change of your routine, you can change a habit within a few weeks. It takes lot of mindfulness and preparation, plenty of repetitions, and often, a superb emotional charge invested into a new behavior. All those factors can accelerate the change of your routine.

It can take you 15 days, 21 or 43. Anyway, after this initial period, your new routine will no longer be forced. It will become a part of your identity. When an old behavior raises its ugly head from time to time, you will be dismayed and surprised that something like this is still inside you. I’m always puzzled by my own returns to binge YouTube watching of talent shows. After such binge, I feel like someone hijacked my body and mind for a few hours.

Normal Change

It’s rare, because most people give up too early. When you decide to change your routine, you take precautions to avoid old behavior and design a new one. You repeat, repeat and repeat the new behavior, but when you put your guard down the old habits slips in unnoticed.

After some time, you realize what happened and go back to your new routine. This battle can last for years because in the end, it is about the number of repetitions.

If you smoked cigarettes for 10 years, 20 cigarettes a day, it takes 73,001 repetitions of a new habit triggered by the exact same cue to overwrite a new routine in your habit loop.

In Summary

If the habit is broken fast, it is an illusion. Either the trigger was eliminated from your life, or you experienced enlightenment that confused and reshaped your whole identity.

Enlightenment is outside of human power to control. If you only eliminated the trigger for your old habit, you’d better be aware of that. When the trigger returns, it will release your old behavior without a fault.

If you want to break a habit, you need to identify its cue and replace the old routine with the new one. If you want to make it relatively fast, let’s say in 21 days, it will take an insane amount of focus and repetitions. For 99% of people, it’s out of the question.

The best course of action, the hack, is to know yourself, know your triggers, and painstakingly eliminate them from your life. Then put your attention in creating totally new habits that will fill the void.

How long does it really take to change a habit?

In my research on happiness, I keep running into the assertion that it takes 21 days to develop a new habit—but I’ve always had my doubts about the validity of that number.

First, when it comes to developing a bad habit, two repetitions is probably enough. Order a doughnut with your coffee on Monday morning and Tuesday morning, and you’ll probably find it very hard to resist ordering a doughnut on Wednesday.

Second, at least for me, 21 days isn’t nearly long enough to form a good habit. For my happiness project, I tried for many weeks to get in the habit of keeping a food journal, and I failed and gave up, and then tried again, and I never could get in the habit. Flossing is a challenge—though all the suggestions from these commenters have improved my flossing rate, I must say. Even writing in my one-sentence journal, which I enjoy doing, isn’t really quite habitual yet.

Because I’ve always questioned that often-repeated statistic, I was very interested to read Oliver Burkeman’s article, “How long does it really take to change a habit?”

According to a recent study, a daily action like eating fruit at lunch or running for 15 minutes took an average of 66 days to become as much of a habit as it would ever become.

However, there was a lot of variation, both among people and among habits—some people are more habit-resistant than others, and some habits are harder to pick up than others.

I found this study reassuring. My difficulty in picking up certain habits wasn’t unusual. Fact is, habits are hard to alter, and that’s why developing a good habit is really worth the struggle; once you’re used to making your bed each morning, or going for an evening walk, or flossing, you don’t have to exert much self-control to keep it up.

The study also showed that if you miss a day here or there when you’re trying to develop a habit, it doesn’t derail the process, so don’t get discouraged if you can’t keep a perfect track record. But the first days seem to make the biggest difference, so it’s worth trying to be particularly diligent at the beginning of the attempted-habit-acquisition process.

What do you think? What has been your experience in developing habits? How long has it taken, and what tricks have you found to help yourself acquire—or kick—a habit?

*Interested in starting your own happiness project? If you’d like to take a look at my personal Resolutions Chart, for inspiration, just email me at grubin, then the “at” sign, then gretchenrubin dot com. (Sorry about writing it in that roundabout way; I’m trying to thwart spammers.) Just write “Resolutions Chart” in the subject line.

H aving habits can often be a good thing. When you drive to work for example, you don’t need to wonder whether you should turn left or right; the route becomes habit.

“We want the brain to learn how to do those things without energy and effort,” says Russell Poldrack, a professor of psychology at Stanford University. “Habits are an adaptive feature of how the brain works.”

But sometimes, habits can lead us astray—whether it’s turning to comfort food when we’re sad, or taking a cigarette break when stressed.

Since habits take practice and repetition to form, the same is true when it comes to breaking them, says Elliot Berkman, director of the University of Oregon’s Social and Affective Neuroscience Lab. In order to eliminate those pesky habits—whatever they may be—start with these five strategies.

Sink your stress levels

Many habits—including smoking or excess sugar consumption—involve the brain’s dopamine (or reward) system. Dopamine is a “feel-good” chemical that transmits signals between neurons in the brain. The first time you engage in a new, “rewarding” behavior, you get a euphoric feeling from doing it as a result of a dopamine release, notes Poldrack. This leads to changes in both the connections between neurons and the brain systems responsible for actions—and can largely account for why we start to form bad habits in the first place.

Many of these rewarding stimuli—like sugar or substances—are powerful, too. And our physiological reaction to them in present day can be linked all the way back to evolution, says Poldrack. In the cavemen days, meat wasn’t salted, dry-rubbed or grilled to perfection. “Our brains aren’t well-equipped to deal with the big rush one gets from these sorts of things,” Poldrack says. As a result, the frontal lobe, the brain’s “control center,” gets overwhelmed, he says.

“You’re more likely to do the thing you don’t want to do when you’re stressed out,” Poldrack says.

There are however, ways to address the root cause of these seemingly detrimental habits.

Some solutions? Try to get more sleep, exercise regularly and opt for stress reduction techniques like meditation, which can all work to increase willpower and overall brain health, says Poldrack.

Know your cues

Habits, Berkman says, have three main parts: a cue, a routine and a reward.

Cues are the context where you tend to engage in the behavior. If you’re a smoker for example, the cue might be work breaks. If you’re a dessert aficionado, it might be simply scouring the dessert menu. “You’re most likely to relapse in the context of when you’ve done it before,” Berkman says.

Knowing your triggers can help you avoid them. Berkman suggests that smokers dispose of items like ashtrays that might remind them of their habit or people who are trying to cut back on drinking should avoid walking by the bar they always pop into for happy hour.

Capitalizing on major life changes can also help break an unhealthy habit. While you might think a cross-country move or a new job is no time to introduce even more changes into your life, Berkman notes that shifts in lifestyle can actually be the ideal opportunity for eliminating a vice. “You’re going into new contexts and situations, so you don’t have those same cues—it’s a chance to form new habits,” he says.

If you’re used to lighting up on your way to work for instance, moving to a new city gives you a chance to take public transportation or to dig into a new podcast instead of a pack of cigarettes, because you are in a new environment, says Berkman.

Replace a bad habit with a good one

Instead of trying to stop doing something—“It’s hard to stop a behavior,” says Berkman—start doing something else.

“We are action-oriented creatures,” says Berkman. Some studies have shown that the more you suppress your thoughts, the more likely you are to think about that thought or even revert back to that bad habit. A 2008 study in Appetite, found that those who suppressed their thoughts about eating chocolate exhibited a behavioral rebound effect, where they consumed significantly more chocolate than those who didn’t. Similarly, a 2010 study published in Psychological Science found that smokers who tried to restrain their thoughts about smoking wound up thinking about it even more.

If you’re a smoker and you tell yourself not to smoke, your brain still hears “smoke,” Berkman says. Conversely, if you tell yourself to chew gum every time you want a cigarette, your brain has a more positive, concrete action to do, he notes. Similarly, if 5 p.m. has been linked with a glass of wine for years, use it as a time to, instead, double down on hydration and make sure the fridge is stocked with seltzers, cold water and lemon, Berkman says.

But forming a new habit takes time and commitment, so don’t be discouraged if it takes longer than you might expect. A 2010 study published in The European Journal of Social Psychology found it took an average of 66 days for a behavior to change (though time varied from 18 to 254 days).

Have a better reason for quitting

Even if you replace a “bad” habit with a better one, sometimes the original vice will have a stronger biological “reward” than its substitute, Berkman says. For example, your brain knows that gum is not nicotine and therefore won’t produce the same euphoric feeling that smoking a cigarette would, he says. This is where the importance of having an intrinsic motivation comes into play.

Intellectually, we know that quitting smoking is good for our health and limiting how many burgers we eat might help us lose weight. But rooting habit changes in specific and personal reasons—giving up smoking for good may mean spending more years with your family or eating healthier may give you more energy for those outdoor adventures you used to enjoy—provides a stronger dose of motivation, says Berkman.

Set better goals

Rather than focusing on a more general goal—like I will not grab a cookie on the way out of the cafeteria—Poldrack suggests imagining more specifically how you’ll implement this goal into your daily life.

Examining how you’ve responded to the situation in the past and determining what you can do to avoid the cookies in the future, might be all it takes to break the habit, says Poldrack. This may mean simply not walking by the rack of sweets itself.

“It’s always going to be easier to react based on something you’ve already planned out in the past versus trying to come up with a new plan on the fly,” Poldrack says.

Plus, thinking about how exactly you’re going to do something helps you develop the mindset that you can do something, he notes. And that’s half the battle.

How long does it really take to change a habit?

In my research on happiness, I keep running into the assertion that it takes 21 days to develop a new habit—but I’ve always had my doubts about the validity of that number.

First, when it comes to developing a bad habit, two repetitions is probably enough. Order a doughnut with your coffee on Monday morning and Tuesday morning, and you’ll probably find it very hard to resist ordering a doughnut on Wednesday.

Second, at least for me, 21 days isn’t nearly long enough to form a good habit. For my happiness project, I tried for many weeks to get in the habit of keeping a food journal, and I failed and gave up, and then tried again, and I never could get in the habit. Flossing is a challenge—though all the suggestions from these commenters have improved my flossing rate, I must say. Even writing in my one-sentence journal, which I enjoy doing, isn’t really quite habitual yet.

Because I’ve always questioned that often-repeated statistic, I was very interested to read Oliver Burkeman’s article, “How long does it really take to change a habit?”

According to a recent study, a daily action like eating fruit at lunch or running for 15 minutes took an average of 66 days to become as much of a habit as it would ever become.

However, there was a lot of variation, both among people and among habits—some people are more habit-resistant than others, and some habits are harder to pick up than others.

I found this study reassuring. My difficulty in picking up certain habits wasn’t unusual. Fact is, habits are hard to alter, and that’s why developing a good habit is really worth the struggle; once you’re used to making your bed each morning, or going for an evening walk, or flossing, you don’t have to exert much self-control to keep it up.

The study also showed that if you miss a day here or there when you’re trying to develop a habit, it doesn’t derail the process, so don’t get discouraged if you can’t keep a perfect track record. But the first days seem to make the biggest difference, so it’s worth trying to be particularly diligent at the beginning of the attempted-habit-acquisition process.

What do you think? What has been your experience in developing habits? How long has it taken, and what tricks have you found to help yourself acquire—or kick—a habit?

*Interested in starting your own happiness project? If you’d like to take a look at my personal Resolutions Chart, for inspiration, just email me at grubin, then the “at” sign, then gretchenrubin dot com. (Sorry about writing it in that roundabout way; I’m trying to thwart spammers.) Just write “Resolutions Chart” in the subject line.

Habit Busting Secrets System

Break ANY habits in 21 days or less

The author of this ebook Dr. Lee Milteer is one of America ‘s most highly-esteemed and sought after human potential speakers and productivity coaches.
Dr. Lee Milteer, Expert Of Motivation as seen on CNN, NBC, CTV, Montel, PBS and USA Today. She has counseled and trained thousands of professionals in Walt Disney,AT&T, XEROX, IBM, Ford Motor, Federal Express, 3M, the US Navy, Bell Telephone, the US Air Force. With this proven system, you can easily breaking the habits like:

* Overeating or stress eating * Blaming others for your problems
* Smoking * Being a pushover
* Spending too much money * Neglecting your family
* Losing your temper * Nail biting
* Being a “yes” person * Lying
* Compulsive shopping * Neglecting your health
* Being chronically late * Negative thinking
* Stressing out * Neglecting yourself
* Watching too much TV * Being a workaholic
* Procrastinating * Computer addition

* plus many more.

This 4-CD audio program and action plan are for people serious about taking control of their destinies again.

. then this program is NOT for you.

If that’s the case, please be honest with yourself and exit this site right now. . If you are not open to real breakthroughs in your life, this is not the program for you.

You have a choice in life.

You can keep doing what you have been doing, which guarantees you will get what you have always gotten. Or you can do it differently and get all the things you’ve ever wanted.

If that’s what you want. If you want to put an end to the cycle, then give “Habit Busting: Break Any Habit in 21 Days Or Less” a try!

Click Here
Habit Busting Secrets: Break Any Habits In 21 Days Or Less

Whether you have a bad habit you’d like to kick, or you’d like to form a good habit like walking every day or taking the stairs instead of the elevator, 21Habit is a simple webapp that operates on the idea that you need to repeat a daily activity 21 times before it becomes a habit. Although you don’t have to, the truly serious can put up 21 dollars—one dollar per day—to your commitment that you’ll make or break the change you want in your life.

Once you sign up, 21Habit asks you if you want to operate in “free mode,” which doesn’t require money, or “committed mode,” where you put down $21, or a dollar for every day you plan to build—or beat—the habit in question. Just tell the service what it is you resolve to do—or stop doing—every day, and the app takes care of the rest. If you’re in free mode, 21Habit will just check in with you every day to make sure you’re making progress towards your goal. If you’re not getting anywhere, you can stop the habit and start a new one at any time. If you’re in “committed mode,” each day you succeed earns you $1. Each day you falter, $1 is taken out of the pot available for you to earn back at the end of the challenge. When your challenge is complete (or you forfeit), the money you lost is donated to a charity of your choice, and you can start a new challenge.

21Habit isn’t the only app that operates on the 21-day principle. Previously mentioned HabitForge does the same thing. The 21 day guideline is just that, a guideline—there’s no guarantee that after 21 days you’ll have no trouble taking the stairs or resisting when your coworkers ask you outside for a smoke, but it’s a good way to get started making positive changes if you’re planning them.

How to break a bad habit in 21 days (or less)

For the month of January, we’re exploring how to live with intention — how the small choices we make every day impact our lives and happiness in the long run. Click here to read more on this topic!

In 2019, a fact I came across defined much of my year: research has shown that it takes 21 days to build a new habit (and the same amount of time to break a bad one). Unlike previous goal-setting methods, this fact propelled me to aim high, but also recognize that if I was unable to build a habit within three weeks, that goal was likely unrealistic for me. As such, when I attempted this in 2019, I would attempt multiple different resolutions over the course of the year and after 21 days, I’d either abandon my goal or I’d add another resolution to a successful one, building a series of positive habits.

This year, I encourage TFD readers to do the same: take 21 days to build a new habit for 2021. In 2019, I was pleasantly surprised by what I was able to achieve, such as consistently beginning to work out five days a week, meal-prepping my weekday lunches, making my bed every morning, and identifying a realistic budget. I also attempted several resolutions I was unable to keep, however, from eating a salad a week to walking ten thousand steps a day to reducing the number of Ubers I took. Still, despite these disappointments, I still came away from the year with new resolutions—many of which I kept in 2020 (until the pandemic truly interrupted my routine). Moreover, since the idea is to attempt to build a habit by persistently sticking to an activity for 21 days, I can push myself to aim high and think of loftier goals since, if I “fail”, in 21 days I can modify it and make it more realistic. As such, I’m hoping to use the same method with success this year, too.

Here are some of the habits I hope to form in 21 days over the course of 2021:

1. Floss Twice A Day:

This is embarrassing to admit, but, I often forget to floss twice a day. I’m quite consistent about flossing at night, but in the morning I’m usually in such a rush that I forgo the flossing. But let’s see if 2021 is the year I can confidently walk into my dentist’s office!

2. Work Out 3x A Week:

I’ve gone back-and-forth on my workout routine in 2020, either being extremely consistent or completely forgoing my workouts for weeks. As such, I’m hoping to strike a balance and aim to exercise three times a week in 2021. While I’d love to resume my pre-pandemic five days a week routine, it just doesn’t seem as realistic and even 3x a week will be a challenge for me, at present.

3. Cook 9-12 Meals A Week:

This is another more realistic goal, that I also know I’ll find challenging since I’ve genuinely relied on takeout or ramen this past year. As with other aspects of my pandemic routine, there were weeks where I cooked significantly and others where I didn’t prioritize that. But I’m hoping to reach a happy medium in 2021 and embrace the love of cooking that I discovered at some point during the pandemic.

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4. Get Out Of The House Every Day:

Again, a goal that wouldn’t have been difficult pre-pandemic but has felt increasingly tough in the winter. Still, I hope to get out of my apartment every day this year, even if it’s just to climb up to my rooftop or do the shortest loop around my block. The fresh air and sunshine have been incredible for my mental health and I want to push myself to form this habit, this year.

5. Meditate 3x A Week:

I’ve slowly gotten into meditating, in 2020, but I’ve considered it a win if I’ve managed to meditate once a week. While I strongly suspect I won’t be able to meditate thrice a week from the get-go, I hope to be able to modify this goal throughout the year so that meditation is more strongly embedded in my routine than it is, now.

6. Pick Up A New Hobby:

This is broad, but I’ve become a tad bit jealous of the number of hobbies people perfected during the quarantine. While I certainly have continued to bake, and honed my cooking skills to the point where I have a handful of dishes I feel comfortable serving to guests, I still lack a creative or artistic hobby. My hobbies right now revolve around reading or watching TV but I want to learn a few new skills, whether it be pottery or needlepoint. I hope to give a few different hobbies a try for 21 days in an effort to build them into my routine.

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Ultimately, these six goals are likely to be modified throughout the year. If all goes well, I’ll have at least these six new goals built into my routine. And, even if my first attempts don’t succeed, with six goals I have an extra month to attempt to modify my goals and make more realistic habits fit into my routine. I’ve used this method with success in the past and I hope it will make for a more structured 2021. What are new habits you’re hoping to learn, this year?

Keertana Anandraj is a recent college grad living in San Francisco. When she isn’t conducting international macroeconomic research at her day job, you can find her in the spin room or planning her next adventure.