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The Magic of 21

Chris Shugart
Director of Content

Join date: Oct 2002
Posts: 17782

The Magic of 21

In the realm of psychology and human behavior, the number 21 is magical.

I first noticed this when I was getting my psychology degree. The number 21 showed up everywhere. Twenty-one is the Fibonacci sequence of the human mind, particularly when it comes to breaking bad habits or engraining new ones.

In short, and with some leeway in either direction, it takes about 21 days to permanently change a behavior. We can break that down into two categories:

1. If you can do one thing every day for 21 days, you'll very likely keep doing it.

2. If you stop doing one thing for 21 days, you very likely won't do it again.

Now, that "thing" and resulting behavior can be positive or negative. You can engrain a good habit or a bad habit, for example. You could "lose" a productive behavior and replace it with a nonproductive one, or vice-versa.

Chasing Rabbits

Very often, we try to change too many things at once. That can work, but it can also be overwhelming. If you say, "I'm going to go to the gym 7 days per week, go on a liquid detox diet, learn to speak Thai, and quit smoking and cussin'... and I'm going to do it all at once!" then you're probably not going to achieve any of those things.

Chase two rabbits and both will escape, as my favorite fortune-cookie wisdom goes. Chase five rabbits and, well, someone ain't getting a rabbit for the stewpot.

But, if you say, "For the next 21 days I'm going to dump the skim milk and drink only almond milk. This will help me drop some sugary carbs and maybe get rid of this constant bloat."

So, for about three weeks you're going to NOT do one thing: drink cow's milk.

And you're going to DO one thing: drink unsweetened almond milk.

If you're really smart about it, you'll mark this off on a calendar. Draw a bold slash through the next 21 days on a calendar. Then, every day you meet your behavioral goal, draw another line through that day making it an X.

This is how Arnold used to count his sets during training, by the way. It's psychologically very powerful and satisfying.

The Challenge

Call it a New Year's resolution if you must, or just call it a little experiment in kaizen, the Japanese concept of constant and never-ending improvement. But I'm going to challenge you to join me on a 21-day challenge:

For 21 days, either start doing something or stop doing something. Or, as with the milk example, stop one negative thing and replace it with something more positive.

Remember, just one thing. You only have to catch a single fat rabbit here. Got it?

Also, your "thing" has to be specific. You can't say, "I'm going to try to be a better person." That's one limp and impotent promise.

Instead make it specific: "I'm going to stop complaining. No one likes to be around a complainer and I'm not going to do it for 21 days." (Or you could choose criticizing, getting snappy with your loved ones, etc.)

Your "thing" could also involve training, diet, or supplementation, but again, keep it specific. "Nothing flour-containing will pass my lips for 21 days." "I'm going to do the 100 Gram Carb Cure for 21 days." "No beer for 21 days." "I'm going to take Elite Mineral Support for 21 days straight." "Stretching, every day, no excuses, for three weeks."

It's up to you. Do one specific thing. Or, don't do one thing.

Use this thread to make your promise and get it out there, then keep us posted.

Take advantage of the magic of 21! -- Chris

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Join date: Jul 2006
Posts: 108

This reminds me of a spill a while ago, back in March if I'm not mistaken.

And I'll tell you one thing, it works. 21 days, 3 weeks. I went without grains for that long back then and haven't looked back. Sure there have been minor slip ups but the 21 days have brought a big change in my attitude towards grains.

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Level 10

Join date: Sep 2008
Posts: 755

I actually stared a 21 day challenge last week. I had recently gotten back into eating oatmeal post workout, but I've decided to give it up. Grains suck. Even oatmeal. My peri-workout carbs are covered just fine by Surge Workout Fuel and maybe some fruit.

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Level 3

Join date: Oct 2004
Posts: 193

I'm trying to make 21 days change my life.
Hopefully it will help me to finally finalize my PhD ;)

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Join date: Mar 2010
Posts: 200

This is so true, once you get to that 21 day mark things become like clock work. I told myself I would do fome rolling work for a month and see how it helped my performance in running, that was in august and now I havent missed a day but don't even need to remind myself about doing it. so if we take one new thing every 21 days within a year we will all be perfect in every way!.......ok not really but you get what I'm going for.

I like this article.

Also note that you don't have to wait for the beginning of a week/month to start something, why is it so many pepole do that, my girlfriend and my mom always talk about starting something new at the begining of the month, start something right away!


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Join date: May 2008
Posts: 1918

This is bullshit. I tried it and it doesn't work. I took 21 days of from masturbating and all it did was make me want to choke the chicken even more....... have failed :)

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Level 1

Join date: Dec 2009
Posts: 49

I'll give it a shot. But how does this work for things that shouldn't necessarily be done everyday, like a person starting a lifting regimen or physical activity? I know plenty of people that ask for my advice, but never follow through on a program that has them working 3 days a week.

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Chris Shugart
Director of Content

Join date: Oct 2002
Posts: 17782

almightyfod wrote:
I'll give it a shot. But how does this work for things that shouldn't necessarily be done everyday, like a person starting a lifting regimen or physical activity? I know plenty of people that ask for my advice, but never follow through on a program that has them working 3 days a week.

There's an interesting theory that says people are more likely to stick to a new training program (or adopt a active lifestyle altogether) if they do it every day rather than 3 days per week. Three days per week allows wiggle room. They'll bargain with themselves. "If I skip Wednesday then I just go Thursday and Friday back to back..."

Better to tell them they have to workout every single day. No wiggle room. Believe it or not, people will do that and stick to it better than they will a more "sensible" 3 day-per-week newbie plan.

So what you do is have them to do something daily. Maybe it's resistance training 3 days per week, and something else -- cardio, a long walk, a yoga class, dragging sled session, whatever -- on the other days. Don't give them room to bargain and wiggle out.

This is why the NEPA portion of the V-Diet, a fast walk or similar, is every single day of the plan. Every day, they have to do something, and after 28 days most V-Dieters are pretty addicted to being active.

We've changed their mindsets, and that's more important than the 15 pounds lost in the long run.

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Join date: Jan 2007
Posts: 120

good article

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