How Long Does It Take to Create a New Belief?
“21 days to a new habit!”
There's an unfortunate myth floating around, that it takes just 21 days to create a new habit (or a belief, which is a thought habit). That's music to our ears! We love to hear that in 21 days we'll have a new belief that will magically erase the old belief and make us into a new person. The reality is a bit more complex than that (in a good way).
The 21-day myth dates back to the late ‘50s when a plastic surgeon named Maxwell Maltz (author of Psycho-Cybernetics) noticed that it took his patients around 21 days to get used to their new face. He noticed the same when amputees would typically stop having phantom limb sensations somewhere around 21 days. He concluded that “it requires a minimum of about 21 days for an old mental image to dissolve and a new one to jell."
Note the word “minimum.”
Many popular personal growth teachers were influenced by Maltz’s work, and through the telling and retelling of the story, the word “minimum” somehow disappeared and the belief grew that it took 21 days to form a new habit, period.
The lesson here is exactly how beliefs are formed: if you hear something enough times, whether it’s the truth or not, you will start to believe it.
So today, we think, “Yay, I only have to practice this new thought for 3 weeks and then voila, it’s a new belief!” It’s a short enough amount of time so we think we can force ourselves think this thought and then we can forget about it because surely it's already in our subconscious... yet it’s also long enough to feel like it will have an impact.
Cue the game show buzzer…
Nope! Not quite!
Today, researchers, including University College London’s Phillippa Lally, are finding that 21 days to a new habit is a fallacy. Lally’s team studied 96 people over a 12-week period, analyzing how long it took each person to go from starting a new behavior to the point at which it became automatic.
On average, it took more than 2 months - 66 days, to be exact - for a behavior to become automatic. The range was anywhere from 21 days to 8 months.
Now that you can manage your expectations about creating a new belief, how do you stay inspired and motivated, because it’s going to be a longer road than you initially thought?
1. Don’t sweat it. Can you have FUN with this new habit? Sure, you can! Embrace the awkwardness of starting out (keep the beginner’s mind). Giggle at your goof-ups as you master a skill. Congratulate yourself on the days you rock it, and give yourself a hug on the days you don’t.
2. Forget about the time, and enjoy the unfolding. Think about how much fun it is to watch a garden grow from seeds to an explosion of brilliant flowers and delicious vegetables. Half the fun - maybe even more than half - is the part where you nurture the plants and encourage them to grow!
3. Go gently on yourself. The important thing to remember is this: your mental habits are not stand-alone habits. They are part of a web of beliefs that are unique to you, and as you change one (or attempt to change it) others will be challenged and you may feel resistance to the creation of the new habit… which means you’re not “done” yet and you have to keep going with your practice. You will create a domino effect where one new belief will influence others, but that domino effect will not occur unless you start, with dedication and determination, and create that one new belief… which could take anywhere from 21 days to many months, depending on how tangled the belief is with others.
4. Practice deliberately. John Hayes, cognitive psychology professor at Carnegie Mellon University, has found, based on studying famous classical composers, that it took approximately 10 years - he called it “10 years of silence” or in other words, 10 years of practice without recognition - to create what is today considered a masterwork. Other studies have backed that up, studying painters and athletes: 10 years was the average time it took to become a “master.” However, 10K hours of practice is not the only factor to mastery and you can significantly speed up any results, including the creation of new beliefs, using what you’re about to learn: the most important factor in mastering something is the quality of your practice - in other words, “deliberate practice” rather than just showing up. Simply putting in the time will not necessarily make you a master. Slowing down, being mindful, having fun, doing your best, and being okay with the process of learning (including making mistakes and failing), will create mastery.
I strongly encourage you to utilize MindPT as your daily mental practice, to accelerate your results. MindPT gives you the most fun, pleasurable and deliberate practice opportunity so that you stay motivated throughout the creation of your new beliefs. There’s no work involved, just watching one of our beautiful targeted sessions - or your own custom session - every day. Mental rehearsal is proven to be essential to mastering any skill. The faster you can live your ideas in your mind, the faster you will live them in your physical reality.
To assist you with mental rehearsal in the creation of positive beliefs around specific goals, look no further than MindPT!
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