Maxwell Maltz was a famous
cosmetic surgeon in the 1950s. He began to notice a strange pattern among his
patients. When Maltz performed an operation on patients – for example, on
correcting the nose – then he noticed that the patients took about 21 days to
get used to the new face. And when the patient’s arm or leg was amputated,
most patients felt phantom pains also for about 21 days, until they adjusted to
the new situation.
This experience made Maltz
remember his personal experience of getting used to changes and new
behavior. He realized that he also needed about 21 days to form a new
In 1960, Maltz published this
quote and other thoughts on behavior change in a book called Psycho-Cybernetics. The
book became a bestseller, and over 30 million copies were sold.
So, from that moment the myth
spread that for the creation of a new
habit 21 days are necessary. The myth was very believable because only 21 days
are necessary to change the life.
But the problem is that Maltz
just watched what was happening around him, and did not state this as a fact.
Moreover, he said that this is the “minimum amount of time” that was
necessary for a person to adapt to new changes.
So what is the correct answer? How
many days do we need to learn a new
Phillippa Lally, a researcher in
the health psychology at University College London published a study in
European Journal of Social Psychology about how long it takes to form a new
The study examined the habits of
96 people, and the study itself lasted for 12 weeks (84 days). During the
study, participants chose themselves out of habit, which they planned to form
during the specified period. Some of the participants chose simple habits,
such as “drinking a bottle of water at dinner.” Others chose
more complex tasks, such as “regular 15-minute jogging before
dinner.” At the end of the 12th week, scientists analyzed the data to
determine how much time each person needed to go from the beginning of the
formation of a new behavior to the automation of this process.
On an average, for participants
who provided sufficient data, habit formation took 66 days. Of course,
figures can vary according to the nature of the person and the circumstances.
For example, those who simply had to
drink a glass of water after breakfast
reached the maximum automatism in about 20 days.
Those who got used to eating
fruit at dinner required at least twice as much time to create a habit.
Sometimes it can take a whole year.
The conclusion of the Lally’s
study is “it takes 18 to 254 days to form a habit.”
At the end it does not matter how
many days you need to learn a new habit, you will do it one way or another.