21 Days to Healthier Gums and Teeth, Much Longer for a Lifetime of Health
The 21-day myth and the truth about forming lifelong healthy habits
The myth that you can create healthy, lifelong habits in just 21 days is simply that… a myth. In reality, strong and lasting healthy habits, like brushing and flossing twice every day, often take much longer to form. And because good oral hygiene is vital to your overall health, it’s a healthy habit everyone should have. For those who did not form strong oral hygiene habits early in life, this research could help offer insight into why you struggle to form a regular practice of brushing and flossing and how you might approach forming this habit for a better chance of success.
The 21-Day Myth
Many attribute the 21-day myth to a self-help book written in 1960 by cosmetic surgeon Maxwell Maltz. In his book Psycho-Cybernetics, Maltz never intended to state definitively that a healthy habit took only 21 days to become permanent. And there’s no logical basis for the idea that 21 days of repetition will create a habit. Still, Maltz’s research could be useful to anyone trying to form a healthy habit, based on the outcome of research into habit formation.
The 66-Day Research
At what point does a repeated behavior become a habit? University College London psychology researcher Phillippa Lally theorized that once a behavior becomes automatic (you do it without thinking about it) it’s a habit. She published a study of habit formation in the European Journal of Social Psychology that suggests strong habit formation takes about 66 days, when it succeeds at all.
The study concludes that a new habit takes about 66 days to become an automatic behavior, but only about half of those who took on the challenge of forming a healthy habit succeeded. The math suggests that some habits could take a year to form.
In the study, those who sustained high levels of repetition early on were more likely to create a successful, automatic behavior patterns. So, setting a 21-day goal of 100% participation in a new healthy habit may not be habit forming in itself, but it can put you on track towards the goal of forming a habit.
We urge everyone who has difficulty practicing good oral hygiene every day to take a 21-day challenge of brushing and flossing twice a day, no matter what obstacles may arise. Then continue the habit for a full 90 days (remember 66 days was an average – it will take some people longer to form a habit). In the study, missing a day here or there had no effect on overall habit formation, so give yourself permission to make mistakes and just keep trying. Sooner or later, you’ll get there.
Ask LaBell Dentistry for help in forming healthier dental habits.
Your dental health has a direct effect on your overall health. Dr. Terry LaBell cares about helping you form lasting oral hygiene habits that will help you live a longer healthier life. Call LaBell Dentistry at 425.402.1246 or use our online contact form to set up you next dental cleaning to keep your healthy habits going.