I worked in the field of mental health for 25+ years, and was
teaching clients about self image when this 21-day concept was
first introduced by Dr. Maxwell Maltz, in a book titled,
I believe I still have a copy of this groundbreaking book.
From the Aristotle blog:
"Dr Maxwell Maltz wrote the bestseller Psycho-Cybernetics.
Originally a Plastic Surgeon, Maltz noticed that it took
21 days for amputees to cease feeling phantom sensations
in the amputated limb. From further observations he found
it took 21 days to create a new habit. Since then the '21
Day Habit Theory' has become an accepted part of self-help
Brain circuits take engrams (memory traces), and produce
neuroconnections and neuropathways only if they are
bombarded for 21 days in a row. This means that our brain
does not accept ?new? data for a change of habit unless
it is repeated each day for 21 days (without missing a day)."
He also noticed that many of his customers retained a poor
self image even after having surgery which improved their
appearance. This prompted him to work with his clients'
self image prior to surgery, and he discovered that he could
assist them to acquire an improved self image without surgery,
using the same 21-day period to create changes in their
mindset, and that surgery then became unnecessary for them.
A review of the book, by UFO6, notes:
"Particularly enlightening - and applicable to so many vital
situations in life - is Maltz' identification of the '21 day'
phenomenon: the fact that the human mind takes almost exactly
21 days to adjust to a major life change, universally - whether
it's a negative like a loss of a limb or a loved one, a change
of employment or residence, or positive like entering into a
new romantic relationship."
The book is also available in a CD audio format:
Dr. Maltz also a wrote a highly-rated book titled, 'The New
Psycho-Cybernetics', which was updated in 2002:
Matt Furey says he was approached by Dan Kennedy, a wildly
successful speaker who laid all of his success at the feet
of Dr. Maltz' Psycho-Cybernetics, and now publishes and
teaches a system called 'Zero Resistance Living', which,
he asserts, includes previously unpublished works of Dr.
"So I though[t] to myself: How much better could I do if Dr.
Maltz had put together a step-by-step daily and weekly program
to follow? Something where I knew exactly what to do each and
every day. No thinking. No guess work. Just follow the
instructions and voila - I'm on target.
Turns out that Dr. Maltz understood the need for such a program,
which he created before he died. Dr. Maltz called the program
Zero Resistance Living. Thing is, it was never published.
Instead of being in people's hands changing their lives - it
was gathering dust."
Zero Resistance Living began with the work of 5 authors who
published a book titled, 'Zero Resistance Selling': Dan S.
Kennedy, William T. Brooks, Matt Oechsli, and Jeff Paul and
Pamela Yellen, which focused on improving self image in sales
You can still view the Zero Resistance Living newsletters on
the archives of the Psycho-Cybernetics Foundations website
available at the Internet Archives site:
The essence of the technique is simply to devote 15 minutes
a day to the formation of any habit you wish to establish,
and do this faithfully for 21 days. By the fourth week, it
should actually be harder not to engage in the new behavior
than it would be to continue doing it.
This applies to any type of habit, whether it is a physical
practice or a way of perceiving something, such as self image.
In Zero Resistance Living, they talk about changing your self
image in "the theater of your mind" for 15 minutes a day, for
It will also help to establish the habit if the behavior, such
as jogging, is performed at the same time of day every day.
Other senses can be utilized to establish the habit. For
example, if you want to establish the habit of meditating,
you can reinforce the practice by wearing the same clothing,
burning the same incense, occupying the same location, and
assuming the same posture.
The more senses you can involve in the new habit, the more
likely it is to become ingrained in the neural pathways,
so, even if you're working on your self image in a mental
construct, it's helpful to use all the faculties of your
imagination to include sights, sounds, smells, and the
senses of feeling and taste to strengthen the image which
you come to associate with your new self image. In other
words, make it seem as real as possible.
If you miss a day, just keep going until you've been
doing the new behavior for 21 days in a row.
I think that pretty well covers it, but if anything's
unclear or you have any questions, please post a Request
MUCH more information may be found from further exploration
of the links provided above, as well as those resulting from
the Google searches outlined below.
Searches done, via Google:
"21 days" OR "3 weeks" new habit
"maxwell maltz" "21 days"
"zero resistance living" "21 days"
Clarification of Answer by
28 Nov 2006 18:54 PST
I think this entry on the blog of Scott H Young sums up the thinking:
"My favorite natural conditioning technique is the 30 Day Trial,
which was introduced to me from Steve Pavlina. Although I know
that his method has been adapted from many other similar 21 Day
programs, I?ve found it to be incredibly effective. The essence
of this trial is that you intend to focus on the habit only for
30 days. Because the conditioning phase is usually a lot shorter
than it first appears, this technique gets you to focus your
efforts really hard for the first burst so you can reach orbit
I?ve been told that the minimum amount of time needed to
condition a habit is actually only 21 days, but I like 30.
The extra nine days may be a little overkill, but I?ve always
found that going a little overkill is always better than
underestimating the requirements of a habit change. Furthermore,
30 days fits nicely into one month increments, so you can start
and end on the same day of the month."
Especially if you are a promoter of a program for self-change,
there are multiple benefits to having your participants commit
to a 30-day program instead of a 21-day one. You can probably
think of additional ones:
- Success is more solidified upon completion. And if you're
really shooting to create a lifelong habit, why even stop
at 30 days?
- If the participant is daily using a product you're selling,
30 days use is more lucrative than 21.
- If you promoted a program using the same, unique 21-day
period made famous by Dr. Maltz, it would border on the
unethical to fail to cite your source, which might make
people more interested in Dr. Maltz' work and program
than your own.
And I really think that the human tendency to like 'round
numbers', as Scott suggests above, makes 1 month or 30 days
somehow more desirable.