You’re determined to start fresh in 2021 with great habits. Here’s how to keep them.
2020 is finally coming to a close and it’s that time of year again to make your new years resolutions. Regardless of how 2020 went, it is always helpful to look back on how we handled the challenges thrown our way and review aspects we can improve for the year ahead. We understand that making resolutions can be daunting: too ambitious, and it can be too daunting to even start. Too easy, and you might not feel any sense of achievement.
However, it doesn’t have to be with the 21/90 “rule”. So what exactly is the 21/90 “rule”?
The 21/90 magic numbers
Simply put, the rule postulates that it takes 21 days to break or form a habit and another 90 days to make it part of your lifestyle. However, this has been largely regarded as a myth and a misinterpretation of Dr. Maxwell Maltz’s 1960 best-selling book, Psycho-Cybernetics. Maltz was a plastic surgeon and observed that his patients would take about 21 days to get used to seeing their altered face, this pattern also revealed itself in amputees who experienced phantom limbs for about 3 weeks before adjusting. In the book, he writes “it requires a minimum of about 21 days for an old mental image to dissolve and a new one to jell”. Over the years, it was shortened and the alluring idea that “it takes 21 days to form a habit” began to take root.
Alas, there is no magic number for habit formation. This makes absolute sense since habits can be as simple as drinking a glass of water a day or as difficult as breaking a lifelong addiction. However, there are still merits in following the 21/90 rule as a guide to forming habits.
1. Practising it daily
Setting small achievable micro quotas for your macro goals will help you successfully complete them daily. Numerous psychological studies have found that simple actions when repeated in the presence of cues become habitual in nature, persisting even after conscious motivation or initial interest dissipates. In simpler terms: break it down, make it attainable, and keep at it every day. For example, instead of aspiring to have 3-hour work-out sessions twice a week, try doing something active that you can easily work into your daily routine. It could be something like taking the stairs at work or a quick 10-minute yoga session in the morning.
2. Overcoming Resistance
Oftentimes we fail to meet our new year resolutions simply because we lack the right mentality and cut ourselves too much slack. According to this Forbes article, 80% of Americans fail their New Year resolutions within 30 days. With the 21/90 as a guide, it is easier to overcome the initial resistance by rationalizing. For the first 21 days: “Look it's only going to be for 3 weeks, easy-peasy what’s 21 days?” and subsequently “Well, the first 21 days wasn’t so bad, I’m sure I can keep this going for another 90!”. So even though it should not be held as a hard and fast rule, quantifying the time can help you rationalize and this can help act as a source of encouragement to overcome the initial hurdles.
3. Sustaining it for the Long Haul
This seminal habit formation study found that the baseline median to form a habit is 66 days. Respondents were asked to perform a self-chosen activity and took anywhere from 18-254 to form a habit. The 21+90 will give you a total of at least 119 days, placing you well past the median and strengthens your chances of forming a habit. More importantly, it dispels the notion that a lifestyle change can happen overnight, equipping you with the right mindset to build a habit.
In summary, the 21/90 “rule” may be a common myth but works marvelously as an actionable guide in helping you achieve your self-improvement goals.
This coming year, we want to help you be part of the elite few that follow through with their new year resolutions.
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And who knows, this could be the start of a new year and a new you!