Maxwell Maltz graduated with a doctorate in medicine from the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1923. He also trained under German plastic surgeons who were considered some of the most advanced in cosmetic surgery at that time.  After decades of experience as a plastic surgeon, he noticed a familiar pattern with his patients.

When Dr. Maltz would perform an operation -- like rhinoplasty or a facelift for example -- he found that it would take his patients about 21 days to get used to seeing their new face.

Similarly, when a patient had an arm or a leg amputated, Dr Maltz noticed that the patient would sense their phantom limb for about 21 days before adjusting to the amputation.

These experiences prompted Maltz to think about his own adjustment period to new behaviors, and he noticed it also took about 21 days to get used to the changes. Maltz wrote about these experiences, "These, and many other commonly observed phenomena tend to show that it requires a minimum of about 21 days for an old mental image to dissolve and a new one to jell."

In 1960, Maltz published that quote and his other thoughts on behavior change in his book, Psycho-Cybernetics.
The book was a blockbuster and had sold more than 30 million copies.   And it's where people got the misinformed idea of habits taking 21 days to form.

21 Day Habit Myth

This myth has persisted for decades by "self-help" professionals, diet fads, 21 day cleanses, 21 day challenges and numerous books touting this 21 day habit idea.

For example:

Michael Jordan spent his off seasons taking hundreds of jump shots a day.

Cy Young award-winning Phillies pitcher Roy Halladay routinely does a 90-minute workout before practices.

The young Venus and Serena Williams would wake up at 6:00 am to hit tennis balls before school.

Michael Phelps, the Olympic swimmer and winner of the most gold medals of all time would practice every day for six years. Yes everyday. On Christmas and his birthday he was in the water every morning at 6 a.m.

Highly successful people do what has to be done until it becomes second nature.   Developing good habits takes discipline, courage and hard work on a daily basis to keep those habits in place.

Great isn’t easy. Greatness requires sacrifice. It requires doing things that others won’t or can’t do. Good habits require consistent commitment. Highly successful people have learned to develop good habits.

Another scientific tool to take advantage of is the Premack Principle: the view that the opportunity to engage in behavior with a relatively high baseline probability will reinforce behavior of lower baseline probability. For example, a hungry rat may have a high probability of eating but a lower probability of pressing a lever. Making the opportunity to eat depend on pressing the lever will result in reinforcement of lever pressing.

In other words, watching Netflix might be a highly probable activity but working out is a low probability event. To take advantage of the Premack principle you can do your workout while watching Netflix or exercise and then watch your shows afterwards as a reward.  There are many ways to game your life so that it causes you to cultivate habits that give you the long term rewards.

Taking this to a new extreme, an engineering student in Ireland rigged up his stationary bike at home to his computer so that Netflix would only turn on when he was pedaling.  As soon as he stops pedaling Netflix would stop.

That's one way to set up your life to create good habits!
I haven't taken it to this extreme but at least this post is done and now I can watch Rick and Morty or maybe the Mandalorian.

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