21 days to make or break a habit

21 days to make or break a habit

I’ve often heard that it takes 21 days to make or break a habit. Whether it’s scientifically proven to be true or not, it’s worth a try, right? I mean, what do I have to lose? I know a lot of us want simple solutions to our problems. If I do this for just 21 days, everything will be solved! If I follow these 3 simple steps, my son will be potty-trained! Now, we know it’s not that easy. Take it from me, every time I start a new habit, I can’t ever seem to get past the first week! In my most recent attempt to make working out a habit, I was able to sustain my efforts for two months! Yes, I bought a GroupOn for 10 kickboxing classes and to make the most out of this deal, I went every Saturday for ten consecutive weeks. I was even able to take a couple of weekday classes here and there. I could have gone for another month of classes with a special promotion that was available at the time, but I lost momentum and just stopped going. And that’s my life in a nutshell – once I lose interest in something, I just drop it altogether. So even when I am able to do something for a sustained period of time, I have not been able to conquer the habit-making quest.

There’s gotta be a better way…
In researching about this topic, I came across a short but great article by Jason Selk in Forbes.com called “Habit Formation: The 21-Day Myth.” In it, Selk debunks the magic number myth and offers a more practical and forgiving approach to changing our behavior. He breaks down the elusive quest of habit formation into 3 phases: the honeymoon stage, the fight thru, and second nature. Each phase is pretty self-explanatory. At first, we’re excited about a new habit, behavior, or activity, so we are eager to engage in it. Then we hit a wall (here’s where I usually stop). Selk offers three techniques to get past the fight thru stage: 1) Recognize that you’re stuck in the second stage, 2) Ask yourself how you feel if you do or don’t do something about it, and 3) Project or imagine what your life would be like if you don’t make the desired changes. After a while, it becomes second nature (the last stage).


Why I like Selk’s approach:
Here is why I like Selk’s approach and think it’s more forgiving. Even when you make it to the third phase, there are interruptions that can set you back to the fight thru stage (think of the proverbial excuse “life happens”). Understanding that there will be interruptions and that it is ok to have them, makes the battle that much easier to fight. Selk’s recommendation: using the strategies in the second phase to win 2-3 fight thru moments can get you back to the third phase.

Sounds easy enough, right? I want to test it! I’m going to share two examples of my own habit-formation quest; one that I feel I have already conquered, and another one that is in mid-process. Both efforts were started before I came across Selk’s article, but fit perfectly in his 3-phase approach.


Habit formation #1: Making the bed every morning (go ahead laugh, but I know some of you out there know this is a real struggle!!!).
This started about two months or so ago. Every morning, I get the kids ready and drop them off at my parents’ house. If you share your house with toddlers, then you know what morning routines are like…madness. And no matter how hard you try, things are always out of place. Namely toys. But I remembered reading somewhere that you can make a room look more organized by just making the bed. So on the mornings that I was able to get the kiddos ready quickly, I would make the bed. Each time I made the bed, I felt accomplished and each time it seemed to take less time. Slowly, I incorporated it into my morning routine of getting the kids and myself ready for the day. I had a few fight thru moments, mostly they were on weekends when we would sleep in until…check this…8am (I even laugh when I read this). But come Monday, I would get back on track and make the bed again. Then there are days when I’m in a rush or just don’t feel like making the bed. Today, I am happy to report that making the bed has finally stuck in my morning routine and it’s something that I do as “second nature.”
Habit formation status: Conquered!


Habit formation #2: Drink water in the morning.
This is something I’m working on. Coffee is my morning beverage of choice. Sometimes, coffee is my breakfast of choice. I like coffee. That said, I read somewhere that water should be the first thing you drink in the morning, ideally as soon as you wake up. Even more ideal is to drink at least 16oz of water or a full glass. Just the thought of having a full glass of water in my empty stomach makes me feel bloated and makes me want to pee. But putting all my childishness aside, I know I need to be taking better care of my body now that I’ve entered my thirties (ever so graciously, may I add, lol). To make this a habit, I have tagged water-drinking to my morning coffee routine and while at it, I take my multivitamins at this time too. Right before I pour myself a cup of coffee, I use the same mug, fill it with water, and take my vitamins. Then on to the coffee. Voila! There is now water in my system.
Habit formation status: Honeymoon phase.


Other habits on my list to conquer:

  • Exercise (I am not giving up on you yet!)
  • Do the dishes every night or put the dishes away in the dishwasher (why haven’t I conquered this?)
  • Read to my boys every night (hey, this is a judgment-free zone)
  • Moisturize my skin daily
  • Put money in the savings account
  • Devote at least one hour every day to writing/working on this blog
  • Begin each day with a morning affirmation


So, there you have it. Rome wasn’t built in 1 or even 21 days, but they had to start somewhere, right? Stay tuned for updates on my habit formation quest. And if you have a strategy that has worked for you, post it in the comments section. I wanna hear all about it!


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