It Takes 21 Days to Change a Habit
You are about to take a journey that is literally going to transform the way you live. Once you embrace the process of converting your bad habit or habits into good ones, the rewards you reap will be enormous and lifelong.
It doesn’t matter how long you have had your bad habits. They could be something you have done since childhood, such as lying or biting your fingernails. As long as you can recognize that the habit is destructive and genuinely want to convert it into something positive, you can change any bad habit into a good habit.
Everybody has bad habits. It doesn’t matter if it’s the Pope or George Clooney, the Dalai Lama or the Archbishop of Canterbury, people are human, they occasionally make mistakes, and these mistakes can often develop into bad habits.
The problem isn’t that you have bad habits. That’s normal. What’s causing you unhappiness and psychic pain is that up to this point you have been unwilling to make a genuine commitment to change.
You truly can do anything you put your mind to. The human will is indomitable and the changes that lie ahead are going to surprise and amaze you. All it takes is the will to do it.
What’s So Special about 21 Days?
You may have heard that it takes 21 days to change a habit. That’s one reason residential rehab centers for drug and alcohol abuse usually last 21 days. It takes that long for the body to flush out the toxic substances that it is addicted to. But it’s also how long it takes for the mind to expel the toxic negative thoughts that cause it to cling to bad habits so that they can replace them with positive ones.
Three weeks or a month also is a good timeframe to work with when changing habits because it corresponds with our calendar system. If you target the first day of the month for the beginning of a habit change, then it’s a simple matter to use that month as a framework to work on your objective (“I’m going to get this done by Week 2, that done by Week 2 …” and so on).
Not every bad habit requires 21 days or a month to change. Some can take longer and some can take less time. For example, if your goal is to get out of bed a half-hour earlier each day so you can make your mornings more productive, you probably can make this a habit within a week to 10 days.
But habits that go deeper into your character – such as being kinder to your spouse, or becoming a more spiritually centered person, or losing the extra weight that is making you obese and out of shape and replacing it with muscle – can take months or even years to achieve fully.
Creating a Fresh Start
Everybody has experienced the frustration and feelings of helplessness that come with having bad habits. When you are doing something you know is bad for you, but you do it anyway, it can cause a psychic hurt that can affect your self-esteem (“I must be a bad person because I always (Insert Bad Habit Here”).
But at the same time, bad habits can always be overcome, as long as you are persistent and apply the right strategies, which will be outlined in detail in this guide.
When Habits are Controlling and Ruining Your Life
Every bad habit can be damaging to your physical and/or mental health, but some are more serious than others. While biting your fingernails may not be sanitary or particularly healthy, it probably isn’t going to kill you the way shooting heroin or eating fast food every day eventually will.
Making bad choices almost always leads to making more bad choices. Even the most innocuous poor decision can sometimes lead to a downward spiral that leaves you wondering what just happened. Even the smallest of bad habits can have a profound negative effect on the rest of your life.
Cheating on your taxes, for example, can lead to “rounding up” on your hourly timesheet, which can lead to “borrowing” from your company’s petty cash fund, which can lead to changing the books so that additional funds are diverted into your private accounts. You’ve graduated from a tax cheat into an embezzler!
The Will to Choose
You always have a choice, however. Even the most degenerate, emaciated, drug-addled street junkie or someone 400 lbs overweight with diabetes, high blood pressure and congestive heart failure can make the decision to turn their life around. That’s one of the gifts of being a rational, thinking human.
Thanks to our ability to reason, only humans have the ability to end bad habits and convert them into good ones. And it’s never, ever too late. All it requires is the will to choose and being brave enough to make positive changes in your life. That’s the hard part. As you will soon see, the rest is easy.
Once you cross the Rubicon and decide to affect positive change in your life, all you need to do is to follow the process laid out in this guide and you can achieve your goals within whatever timeline you choose.
Goal setting is when you apply realistic expectations to your desired outcome. In Chapter 5, entitled “The Game Plan”, you are going to learn how to develop practical, concrete goals that you can follow every step of the way that ultimately leads to good habits and a better, happier and healthier life.
None of this happens in a vacuum, however. Any bad habits you have are yours and yours alone. Blaming other people or situations for your bad habits will do nothing to help you overcome them.
Maybe your mother and father weren’t responsible parents. Maybe your husband or wife is indifferent to you sexually. Maybe you were bullied in school. So what?
While these things may have contributed to your bad habits, they aren’t going to help you overcome them. In fact, any unwillingness to accept responsibility for your bad habits will ultimately sabotage your efforts and prevent you from achieving your goal. Honesty and maturity are two key factors that separate those people who can successfully change their lives and those who are destined to continually repeat the same mistakes over and over again.
Searching for Answers
In the same way that you alone are responsible for your own bad habits, in nearly every instance you alone lack the power to overcome your bad habits entirely by yourself. In some way, shape or form, eventually, you are going to require the help of other people.
When we are struggling with personal problems that are consequences of our bad habits, there’s a tendency to circle the wagons and try to take care of things on your own. This is truly a bad idea.
It’s perhaps ironic that you are responsible for your own bad habits but you need the help of others – whether it’s in the form of health care, nursing, coaching, support or just information from books or websites – in order to make things better. But seeking out and getting the answers and help that you need is an essential step in your healing process.
Over the course of the next 21 days, there are going to be a lot of changes that you are going to experience. Not all of them are going to fall within your “comfort zone”. You may be accustomed to being completely self-sufficient and prefer to work on fixing your own problems entirely independently of anybody else.