Developing New Habits & Changing Expectations

Monday, 19th January, 2015

Missing the markWe’re over half-way into January, around the time when goals / resolutions tend to be broken (or even given up on!) So how are you managing with yours? Are you still on target, or have there been a few misses?

I don’t know about you, but I’ve already had to make adjustments to my timescales for my running goal, as a result of developing a chesty cough, then having a wisdom tooth out!

But I’ve recently been comforted by an article I read in the Huffington Post by James Clear. If you’ve been setting your habit-changing timescales by the quote:

It takes 21 days to form a new habit

… then think (and plan) again!

This quote is actually a misquote. It’s originator, Maxwell Maltz – a plastic surgeon – actually said:

… it requires a minimum* of about 21 days for an old mental image to dissolve and a new one to jell (1960).

[*My emphasis]

The book his quote was mentioned in became a best-seller, and the quote was shortened & taken on board by self-help professionals. Maltz was talking about patients who’d had nose jobs (for example), and them taking a minimum of 21 days to get used to seeing their face differently.

James Clear’s article then goes on to cite recent research by Health Psychology researcher Phillippa Lally (University College, London) who, with her team of researchers, took up the challenge of seeing how true the shortened quote was.

You can read more about the study here but the main findings were that it takes anywhere between 18 and 254 days to form new habits! The average is 66 days. It depends on the habit and the person / their circumstances, etc.

Motivational saying on chalk board with chalkUsefully, they also found out that if you miss the occasional event in your habit-changing schedule, it won’t have a negative impact on your success.

Give yourself permission to make mistakes and develop strategies for getting back on track quickly.

[James Clear]

So, don’t beat yourself up about not sticking rigidly to your planned schedule. Learn from any blips in your schedule – are they to do with unforeseen circumstances, or setting unrealistic goals in the first place? Make sure you review the blips, and reflect on them where appropriate. Manage your expectations by thinking of your goal achievements as processes, and small incremental changes will win out.

A final thought … Which strategies could / do you use for getting back on track quickly?


Tdebbie019 fhank you for taking time to read this blog.

I’m Debbie Inglis, a performance coach, mentor and trainer, working with Heads, Principals, School leaders and their teams to maximise leadership performance, create more effective, confident, and motivated teams … in a way that brings out the best in you.

If you’re interested in my services, please get in touch, and you can read more here.