The Myth of 21 Days: The Truth About Habit Creation
“Please make people come back to our app every day. It has to become a habit!”
In our work we are often asked to design for habit formation. Many companies like to use the power of Octalysis to create highly engaging user experiences. And habit formation is high on their list. But how are habits formed?
Have you ever heard the saying that it takes 21 days to form a new habit? Well, it turns out that this popular belief is actually a myth. For years, people have been using this figure as a benchmark for creating new habits, but research has shown that it’s not quite as simple as that. In fact, the truth about habit creation is much more complex, and it involves a variety of factors that can impact how long it takes to form a new habit.
So, if you’ve been struggling to create new habits in your life, don’t worry – you’re not alone. In this article, we’ll be breaking down the myth of 21 days and exploring the science behind habit formation. By the end of this piece, you’ll have a better understanding of what it takes to create lasting habits and how you can set yourself up for success. So, let’s dive in and discover the truth about habit creation!
Understanding habits and habit formation
Before we dive into the science behind habit formation, it’s important to understand what habits are and how they form. A habit is a behavior that is repeated regularly and tends to occur subconsciously. Habits can be either good or bad, and they are formed through a process called habituation. Habituation is a form of learning where a behavior becomes automatic through repetition.
The science behind habit formation
Habit formation is a complex process that involves several brain regions and neurotransmitters. The basal ganglia, a group of structures located in the brain, is responsible for the formation of habits. The basal ganglia receives input from the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for decision-making and planning. When a behavior is repeated regularly, the basal ganglia takes over and the behavior becomes automatic.
Neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin also play a role in habit formation. Dopamine is released when we experience pleasure, and it reinforces behaviors that lead to pleasure. Serotonin, on the other hand, is released when we experience satisfaction, and it reinforces behaviors that lead to satisfaction.
The truth about the 21-day myth
The idea that it takes 21 days to form a new habit originated from a book called “Psycho-Cybernetics” by Maxwell Maltz. Maltz observed that it took his patients about 21 days to adjust to a new physical feature, such as a nose job. He then extrapolated this observation to other areas of life, including habit formation.
However, research has shown that the 21-day rule is a myth. In a study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, researchers found that it takes an average of 66 days for a new behavior to become a habit. However, the time it takes to form a new habit can vary widely depending on the behavior and the individual.
How long does it really take to form a habit?
As mentioned earlier, the time it takes to form a new habit can vary widely. In a study published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine, researchers found that it takes an average of 18 days for a new behavior to become automatic. However, some participants took as little as 5 days, while others took as long as 254 days.
The time it takes to form a new habit depends on several factors, including the complexity of the behavior, the frequency of repetition, and the individual’s motivation and ability to change.
Factors that affect habit formation
Several factors can impact how long it takes to form a new habit. One of the most important factors is motivation. If you’re highly motivated to change a behavior, you’re more likely to stick to it and make it a habit. Another important factor is repetition. The more you repeat a behavior, the more likely it is to become automatic.
The complexity of the behavior also plays a role in habit formation. Simple behaviors, such as drinking a glass of water every morning, are easier to turn into habits than complex behaviors, such as learning a new language. Finally, the individual’s ability to change also affects habit formation. If you have a growth mindset and believe that you can change your behavior, you’re more likely to succeed in forming a new habit.
Tips for building new habits
Now that we’ve explored the science behind habit formation and the factors that affect it, let’s discuss some tips for building new habits.
1. Start small: Begin with a simple behavior that you can repeat daily, such as drinking a glass of water every morning.
2. Set specific goals: Define exactly what you want to achieve and how you will achieve it.
3. Make a plan: Create a plan for how you will incorporate the new behavior into your daily routine.
4. Track your progress: Keep track of your progress and celebrate small victories along the way.
5. Stay motivated: Find ways to stay motivated, such as reminding yourself of the benefits of the new behavior or enlisting the support of friends and family.
Common obstacles to habit formation
Building new habits is not always easy, and there are several obstacles that can get in the way. One of the most common obstacles is lack of motivation. If you’re not motivated to change a behavior, you’re less likely to stick to it and make it a habit. Another common obstacle is lack of time. If you’re too busy to incorporate a new behavior into your daily routine, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to make it a habit.
Finally, negative emotions such as stress, anxiety, and boredom can also get in the way of habit formation. If you’re experiencing negative emotions, it’s important to address them before trying to build new habits.
Overcoming obstacles to building new habits
If you’re facing obstacles in building new habits, don’t give up. There are several strategies that you can use to overcome these obstacles and build lasting habits.
1. Find a support system: Enlist the support of friends and family who can help you stay motivated and accountable.
2. Address negative emotions: If you’re experiencing negative emotions, find ways to address them, such as through meditation, exercise, or therapy.
3. Create a habit loop: A habit loop consists of a cue, a routine, and a reward. By creating a habit loop, you can make it easier to form new habits.
4. Change your environment: If your environment is not conducive to building new habits, make changes to your environment that will support your new behavior.
Conclusion: The power of habit building
In conclusion, habit formation is a complex process that involves several factors, including motivation, repetition, and the individual’s ability to change. While the 21-day rule is a myth, it’s still possible to build lasting habits by following the tips and strategies outlined in this article. By understanding the science behind habit formation and overcoming obstacles, you can create lasting behavior change that will improve your life in countless ways. Octalysis is key in this regard as it is the only science backed framework for Gamification.
Want to know more about how The Octalysis Group designs for experiences that empower habits? Contact us!