21/90 rule

I recently read about the 21/90 rule. If you are not familiar with it already, it says it takes 21 days to build a new habit and 90 days to build a lifestyle. I’m a bit wary about assigning hard and fast numbers to habit formation. People are different. Every one might require a different number of days to form a new habit.

However, this rule is helpful as a starting point to new habit formation. Using quitting smoking as an example, withdrawal symptoms start at two to three days, peak after a week and start to go away after two to four weeks. A person who can go three weeks without smoking is more likely to quit because that’s the point when their body starts making the adjustment to a nicotine free life. It may take an average of 21 days for their subconscious to start believing it can be done. Interestingly, most people who make new year’s resolutions quit within two weeks.

Could you do it for 21 days at a stretch?

The second part of the rule says if you can do something for 90 days, it is likely to become a lifelong habit. By that point, you would have created a habit loop that makes it easier to continue. For example, if you have been exercising for 30 minutes every morning for the past 90 days, chances are you’d be doing it almost on autopilot and will continue for life.

An interesting thing about this rule is that just being aware of it can help you form a new habit. Many people might balk at the thought of doing something new each day for 90 days. However, a lot more people might be willing to give it a try for 21. Doing something consistently for 21 days requires a fraction of the effort it takes to build a lifelong habit. However, reaching the 21-day mark seems to be a huge milestone. At that point, your subconscious has started making an important mental adjustment. What if you extended your new behaviour by another 21 days? You already know you can do it. Why not add another 21? And another after that? You’d soon reach the 90 day goal.

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