21-Day Habit Development: If You Miss a Day, Do You Have to Start at the Beginning Again?

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

First of all, it doesn’t take 21 days. The scientific consensus is that it takes 66 days on average, although this consensus is based on single research and not so thorough, in my modest opinion.

The same research concluded it takes between 18 and 254 days to form a new habit.

As a practitioner and a habit coach, I tend to agree with this second conclusion. It almost always takes more than you think and this is the problem.
People give up too soon and they cannot develop a habit. Their brain didn’t quite figure out what they are trying to achieve. It had not enough repetitions to recognize the pattern and “save” the habit in a neural loop.

Don’t Break the Streak

There was another research done about breaking a streak, but I don’t remember where I read about it. Probably on James Clear’s blog, this guy seriously likes to study scientific research. It might have been mentioned in Stephen Guise’s Mini Habits book, too.

Anyway. That research concluded that missing a day here and is not fatal to your habit. The chances for failure rapidly grow if you miss more than one day. Thus, the conclusion for common mortals was:

You may miss your new habit once; just make sure to get back on track and don’t miss it twice.

I think, like with willpower research, a lot depends on your attitude. If you make a big fuss over breaking the streak, you may do yourself a disservice. Don’t beat yourself up! Just go back on track.
Another extreme is carelessness; you don’t care about developing a habit, so missing one or four days is not a big deal for you.

However, definitely more folks suffer from self-criticism than from carelessness. Ironically, their concern works against them:

“Oh, heck, I broke the streak! I’m no good! It’s not gonna work. This is hopeless. I quit!”

So, have a bit more relaxed attitude and you have better chances for success. Also, if you want to develop a habit in 21 days, it’s still possible, but you need to be smart about the design of your habit and repeat it multiple times a day:

Originally published on Quora.



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Michał Stawicki

Michał Stawicki


Authorpreneur. Progress fanatic. I help people change their lives… even if they don’t believe they can. I blog on http://ExpandBeyondYourself.com/