You are not going to be Serena Williams in 21 days

Somewhere along this journey of life I aged. I became a middle age woman and I can promise you it isn't how I thought it would be when I was 20. I gained the weight that I thought I wouldn't. I developed the medical problems that only old people like my grandma got. And recently I have started having abnormal joint ache. Not the "Oh hell, I can't play basketball with the 20 year old" ache. Ache and swelling that get you referrals to special doctor. But I still believe that I and I alone have the power to make my life anything I want it to be. The small problem with making all of these changes it that you have to put in work. And often it takes a change in habit and persistence for these big changes to occur.

But as we all know changing habits isn't easy. We try making the changes alone and when the habit doesn't becomes automatic we sign up for a 21 day cleanse or 30 day fitness challenge. We do okay while we are in the program but two weeks later we are a few dollars lighter and mad at ourselves. What if your failure was due to the misconception of how long it takes for a habit to become automatic?

So, how long does it take to establish a new habit? 21 days, 28 days or maybe 30 days? No, No and No. We have all been bamboozled. Lied to. A plastic surgeon, Maxwell Maltz, in the 60s observed that amputees took an average of only 21 days to adjust to their loss limb. Therefore, he reasoned, without any hard proof, the same must be true of all big changes. So, here we are 50 years later beating ourselves up when we don't make major life changes in 21 days.

Okay, if it isn't 21 days then how long does it take. An average of 66 days. A study by the University College London psychologist Phillippa Lally and her colleagues helped confirm this. On average people who were trying to learn new habits such as eating fruit daily or going jogging, took 66 long days before reporting that the behavior had become automatic. And remember this is an average. Individual changes ranged widely from 18 days to a whooping 245 days.

The 21 day myth also makes us believe that any habit can be changed in 21 days. Sorry, harder habits such as learning a new subject takes longer than eating a fruit a day.  I am happy to announce that the myth of missing a day of a new habit sabotages the whole process is also wrong. Missing a day or two doesn't make a long term difference. Give yourself some slack and then restart. Believing this myth is actually not helpful because you often will give up on yourself before the habit becomes automatic.

Another factor in changing habits is realizing that habits are responds to actual needs. For example, eating that box of doughnut may be because your life is difficult and you need comfort. You have to figure out the need that triggers the desire for the doughnut (comfort) and then find something else that fulfills the need (like calling a friend). As you fulfill the need some other way then you can eliminate the habit that is no longer working.

One last factor, habits are meant to be difficult. Habits are the brains way of making life simpler. Your brain develops habits so it doesn't have to use energy processing the same routine over and over again. We see this in how we drive to work every day without thinking. Most of us can drive to work with blinders on and still make it on time. The brain wants habits to stick so this is why it takes a long time to change them, good or bad.

So, as you can see changing habits are a lot more complicated and will take longer than you think. Give yourself time and compassion as you go after your big dreams and desires.