Apparently it only takes twenty one days to break a habit. At least that’s what someone told me. So of course I headed straight for Google which led me to Wikipedia which led me to some university in Michigan which led me to Amazon. And what did Ifind across this wild trail of clicks and links? Maxwell Maltz’s Psycho-Cybernetics outlines that due to neural pathways in the brain a habit an be formed or broken in three weeks.
A few more rabid clicks on Google revealed that this hypothesis is based on empirical evidence as opposed to clinical. That just means that seventeen committees didn’t sign off on it before publication. A bit of research done thus far shows that while the basic science behind the claim is factual, there are other factors that were not taken into consideration.
It breaks down like this. A habit is nothing more then well traveled paths of electricity in your brain, or neural pathways. Kind of like the rut your dog creates in the backyard or the traffic patterns evident in your living room carpet. According to Maltz, three weeks, twenty-one days, of diligent attention paid to forming or breaking a particular habit, is enough to redirect those pathways.
It seems so idealistic. Mostly because it is. Other factors include the nature of the habit, the duration of the habit, if there are chemical influences involved and so on and so forth. But I guess it is a matter of defining habit.
I quit smoking as of the beginning of this year. It hasn’t been easy although I expected much worse. It has now been twenty-one days since my last smoke. By Maltz’s definition I should be totally free of the habit. I’ll admit the idea of having a cigarette occurs to me less often now as it did on day two and that thought’s ability to control my actions is almost nil, but I wouldn’t say that I’m completely free of the habit. It is still a thought that I must beat down at least once a day, actively considering why it is I don’t want to smoke any more.
That goes back to defining a habit. Is smoking actually a habit? Or is it an addiction? Or some queer marriage of the two? Since nicotine stimulates receptors in your brain on the chemical level it could take longer than twenty-one days to break those bonds. But what about something less severe? Like biting your fingernails or writing daily? Could those habits be broken or formed in a mere twenty-one days?
I’m going to find out. Among other things I’m going to use this blog to document my year-long experiment in habits. Every twenty-one days I will tackle a new challenge. I’ll post updates on my latest ventures and do my best to put to the test the 21 Day Theory. Bring it neural pathways. Bring it.
For the next 21 days I’ll be attempting to add a night-time Yoga Asana to my go to sleep routine. And continue with the no smoking.