I’ve heard of the 21/90 rule for the first time very recently. In fact, I had to google it to get the idea of what it is.
But I think it’s awesome. Thanks to my expertise in building habits, I can tell you exactly how the 21/90 rule helps in building good habits.
The rule implies that it takes 21 days to build or break a habit and 90 days to create a lifestyle. Which is bollocks.
However, when you start a new habit with a mindset that it’s only for the next 21 days, and then you continue it for the next 90 days, it has plenty of advantages.
There are a few nuggets hidden in this very simple rule.
It’s so much easier to build a daily habit than, let’s say, one you practice every other day. In fact, it’s exponentially easier. So, if you focus on doing your new habit for 21 straight days, the effort is a fraction of the effort you’d have needed to perform the same habit every other day.
Thanks to daily practice, you train your mind to recognize the habit loop. There are no holes in your discipline. Your brain doesn’t get confused about a habit trigger. The repetition is continuous, so the lesson from day #1 is reinforced on day #2 and so on.
- Short-term first
I think the main obstacle in building habits is your subconscious mind’s resistance. Your subconscious loves the status quo and hates any energy expenditure. Introducing any change causes subconscious rebellion.
However, by employing the 21/90 rule, you tame and subdue this rebellion: “What’s the problem? Don’t be such a jerk; it’s only for 21 days. Then you will drink, eat, and be merry again.”
When switching from 21 to 90 days, you can say: “See? It wasn’t so bad after all! I’m sure we can do it for the next 90 days.” Or if you are competitive: “21 days was easy, but I bet you won’t do it for 90 more.”
Whatever works for you.
The thing is, you get some reasonable-sounding arguments against your subconscious. You subdue or totally overcome the initial resistance, and this is when many people fail—at the very beginning. Most people don’t continue their New Year’s resolutions after the 12th of January.
The only research I’ve ever found on the length of time needed to develop a habit says it takes from 18 to 254 days. You cannot develop a daily habit in less than 18 days (well, not without some cool tricks).
I say 21 days is the absolute minimum for habit development! The research I just mentioned says the median for creating a habit is 66 days. It means that half of people need more than 66 days to develop a habit.
After studying the methodology of the research and judging from my experience as a habit coach, I say this is an optimistic estimation. They set up the research in a way that supported habit formation. They also finished the experiment long before 266 days, and they extrapolated their data to reach the 266-day final mark.
Most average folks don’t have enough common sense or knowledge to start developing their habits in a similar way.
The 21/90 Rule Gives You an Edge
Thanks to the 21/90 rule, you practice a new habit for 111 days. It takes you far beyond the urban-myth periods of habit creation (21, 30, or 60 days), and far beyond the median 66-day mark. I guesstimate that just sticking to the 21/90 rule boosts your chances for developing a habit to about 70%.
You need a lot of time to develop a new habit; 254 days is more than eight months! (BTW, 8 months is just a bit over 1% of your lifespan if you would have lived only 60 years; it’s NOT “a lot”!). People simply don’t realize that.
Usually, when they want to build a new habit, they have no clue how long it will take. And they have the wrong mindset: instant gratification. The 21/90 rule takes them past this mindset. After 111 days of practice, they have a pretty good chance of sticking with a new habit.
How does it help to build a better life?
Get this; let it sink in:
Every single good habit will really change your life.
And its impact will be significant.
It’s not a theory. It’s not a feel-good charm. It’s not wishful thinking. It’s a reality.
The reality looks like this:
This is how the world functions.
Habits compound with time. After a year you reap some benefits; after 10 years you reap benefits—not 10, but 100 or more times better.
If your body will be stronger and healthier, if your mind will be more flexible and quick, if your spirit will be more peaceful and joyful, if your relationships will be richer and more numerous, if you will gain more knowledge and skills, then your life will become easier. It’s as simple as that.
How can your life be harder if you have more friends or if you are healthy instead of sick?
The Potential for Change
Habits are one of the only three ways known to science that can really change one’s life, and they are the most reliable way.
You cannot engineer enlightenment. Very few people constrained by their social obligations can introduce a significant change to their environment (like changing a job or a place of living).
Everyone can start doing small daily activities, which will change themselves and their lives in effect.
Every good habit makes your life better.