The 21 Day Habit Theory
I have recently come across the 21 day habit theory – the theory that it takes three weeks to form a habit. The more I delve into this concept, the more I realise its power. While some dispute this theory as unrealistic, I think there are elements here that can be used to benefit many areas of our lives. When used to hone in on our fitness goals, it is a real gem. For me, it is one of the best fitness hacks I’ve come across and is allowing me to break through to a new level in my fitness goals.
Forming New Habits
Having the motivation to get started is one thing, but maintaining consistency in a new positive habit is a whole other level. There always seems to be so many life forces working against our goals. Beyond the day to day distractions that come up, there is our mindset to deal with – which is an indomitable force. Getting around this factor is our biggest mission.
So why not use this to our advantage? Reaching any goal is about breaking down smaller goals into actionable steps. If our mind perceives these steps as easily achievable there will be no mental obstacles stopping us from going ahead. Once that easily achieved step is done, onto the next, and so on. Ultimately, it is always our mind telling us whether we can or can not achieve something. We can go to great lengths to self-sabotage, even on just a sub-conscious level.
Keep it Simple, Keep it Achievable
Basically, I believe I can implement a new activity (even if it’s a little tough or unpleasant) for 21 days. I can put up with something or ‘see it through’ for 21 days. It’s realistic and it’s achievable. I have a lot more trouble being given say, a 100-day challenge. I’ll likely pack it in on day three..
21 days is doable. You might say well that’s all fine and good, but what happens after 21 days? You just stop? Well that’s the beauty of this system! Once we get to the end of the three weeks the ‘habit’ has formed. Not only is the action now easier to do but it has inspired a want to continue through either how good we are feeling and/or the results we are seeing already.
Putting it into Practice
Example One: The 22 Day Ab Workout from Athlean-X.
Okay it was one extra day, but I didn’t focus on that too much. This abdominal routine takes around 7 minutes to complete. I thought, what the heck, I can give this a go for 22 days. Only 7 minutes. I will just work through the set exercises and see how I get on. Day one was tough, but totally achievable. It was getting noticeably easier by day 7. Now on day 18 and I’m feeling pretty pleased with myself and definitely seeing some new oblique definition….
If you’d like to watch the YouTube video on The 22 Day Ab Workout, click here.
Example Two: Ten Daily ‘Cheat’ Push-ups
I’m weak as in the upper body. I can probably do ONE full, correct push-up. We tend to overlook certain weaknesses because they are tougher to work on. But I decided to use the 21 day habit theory to focus in on this weak area.
There is a perfect spot to do an incline push-up off our bedroom window sill. Setting up correctly there, core braced, I can hammer out ten solid, good-form push-ups without too much problem. I’m on day five of this one. I’m feeling stronger already and just maybe, (or wishful thinking) I’m seeing a bit more arm definition?
Example Three: Diet Elimination
I’m yet to implement this one, but keen to put this in place very soon. Why not use the 21 day habit theory to eliminate a weakness food? Which, in my case is bread. I eat WAY too much of it because I love it. I don’t think my stomach loves it and I end up feeling bloated and less than fantastic. There has been many an occasion when I have thought about cutting bread out, but without a structured or ‘easy’ plan in place it was never going to happen.
I can see myself going without this for a three-week trial period. If it makes me feel significantly better, (which I’m secretly afraid will be the case) then I can see myself being happy to exclude it. I gave up many things while pregnant with my children with no problem at all. Surely I can do it for myself too?
I could see how this could be used for various items in our diet. Even just as an exclusion trial perhaps. Maybe you suspect dairy milk doesn’t quite agree with you. Cut it out for three weeks and see how you’re feeling. Of course, I don’t advocate this as a diagnostic tool, but I do feel we are our own best judge of how good we are feeling.
There’s No Quick Fix in Fitness
The 21 day habit theory is not a miracle fix. It won’t be some amazing transformation or solution. But it is enough time to establish that ‘habit’ status we are looking for. Actions become easier as you gain strength which in turn makes you feel good. You start to feel and look better and the mental satisfaction of ticking off your days has an immeasurable benefit.
At the end of a three week cycle you can assess the benefits of your new habit. Physically, mentally and also how easily you were able to adapt it into your usual routine. Any positive benefits will have a significant impact on whether you continue on with it.
Habit, Consistency, Variation and Progress
Now will also be the time to tweak this activity. For example, the seven-minute ab routine might be starting to get a bit boring. As there are innumerable ways of working the abs, it is a great time to change it up and modify the work-out. Generally, it will be time to kick the intensity up to offer more of a challenge. You’ve now conditioned your abdominals ready for the next kick-ass round.
For me it’s not about whether the 21 day habit theory is a scientifically proven theory or not. It’s about setting up a positive mind-set that has a higher chance of progressing you towards your goals due to the benefits it brings. For this reason, I really think it’s one of the best fitness hacks around. That’s what fitness is all about, building on our strengths and our achievements.
If you want to give the 21 day habit theory a try for implementing a new fitness goal, here are my tips:
- Keep the new ‘action’ realistic and achievable
- Make sure it takes no more than 10 minutes (at least for your first 21 day round)
- Keep it simple (no equipment or costs)
- Put it in your calendar (day 1, day 2)
For more motivation inspiration read my blog on How to Stay Motivated for Exercise – 10 Tips to Keep You on Track
Reaching Your Goals
Remember, any goal worth striving for is just a series of small, consistent steps. Think about an area you’d like to work on, or like to improve. Formulate an action that will progress you in that direction and wake up tomorrow and start on Day 1. Boom!
I would love to hear about your experience! Have you ever tried implementing a new routine like this? Any tips or advice would be warmly welcomed, leave a comment below!