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Is 66 the New 21?

| January 13, 2015

by Jim Bruce

Today’s Tuesday Reading is an essay by Jim Dezieck, Leadership Coach at MOR Associates.  In the essay, Jim focuses on developing new practices.  As I indicated in last week’s Tuesday Reading, building new practices is one step in becoming more intentional.

Everywhere in our work at MOR we promote practical action, through practices, as the surest route to leadership goals.  A practice, for example sitting for 30 minutes each day to plan your week ahead, is a simple, objective behavior that can be regularly done and that advances a greater goal.  It becomes powerful as it morphs during some initial training period from a cranky nuisance into a reliable, life-giving habit.  But how long is this gestation period?

In This Corner the Defending Champion, 21 Days to Habit

Twenty-one days is the overwhelming consensus of an Internet search for an answer.  The origin of this interval is the work of Dr. Malcolm Maltz who observed in his plastic surgery patients that it took 21 days post-surgery for a person, a burn victim for example, to accept his or her new appearance.  Dr. Maltz expanded his self-image improvement work through publishing, in 1960, Psycho Cybernetics [1].   There he advanced 21 days as a threshold interval for accomplishing change in general, and made that the standard for performing each of his program’s self-image improvement exercises.  The 21-day claim, while lacking in rigorous supporting data, was nonetheless a thoughtful answer from a thoughtful clinician.

And in This Corner, The Challenger, 66 Days (Give or Take)

The “time to habit” research is nearly non-existent but one rigorous recent study sets a stake in the ground at, very roughly, 66 days [Lally et al, 2].  The Lally study applied rigorous qualitative and quantitative methods to assess the time it took 92 folks to establish new health habits.  Sixty-six days was the mean; however, very roughly so, for the times ranged from 18 days in the case of adding a glass of water to a meal to 254 days more for complex additions like a new exercise regimen. 

Sixty-six is not exactly the new 21, then, but this helpful study counsels that we do mindfully escort our efforts for 66 days and be smart in supporting our efforts longer.  At the same time our experience at MOR leads us to maintain with Dr. Maltz that the first month is pivotal.  Our best thinking says that 28 days remains a special period for three reasons:

1.             The practice is refined such that it clearly advances your goal.

2.             Logistics are in place so it fits into your life.

3.             Repetition has brought it to ready consciousness each day.

Thirty minutes each morning to plan a smarter day and week ahead may feel like an unpromising burden on day three but come day 28 you may find you’ve built something useful indeed, and by sun up on 66 you may be masterfully steering an agenda unimagined at first light.  We offer these three data points so that you, as your thoughtful clinician, can choose wisely.


1. Psycho-Cybernetics; Maltz, Malcolm; Wilshire Books; 1960, Chatsworth CA.

2. Lally, van Jaarsveld, Potts and Wardle; European Journal of Social Psychology; 40:6  pp 998-1009.

So, you may want to use the occasion of this essay to start work to develop a new practice – for example, daily planning as in Jim’s example, or working on your listening skills, or …  If you do, I commend Jim’s advice to be all “in” for the long run to you.

Have a great week.  .  .  .    jim