I was watching “The Big C” on Showtime the other night, and one of the characters mentioned off-hand that it takes 28 days to break a bad habit. A quick Google search showed me that this wasn’t just a bit of silver screen writing, but a fairly well-accepted theory.

Some people argue it’s more like 21 days, or 30; still others say that it takes 30 days to create a pattern and 90 days to create a habit. Obviously, some habits are easier to break than others. For example, if you are both a smoker and a nail biter, it’s probably more feasible to break the nail biting habit in a month, but less reasonable to think that quitting cigs can get done in 30 days or less.

But how realistic is it to try and break any habit in 30 days? And where did this idea of habit-busting in under a month come from in the first place?

In the Beginning

The 30 day habit-breaking plan has come under many guises over the years and has been backed by many different experts. But most people agree that the genesis of this theory dates back to a 1960 psychology book: Psycho-Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz. In addition to putting forward the 30-day habit breaking theory, the book also postulated that a person must have an accurate and positive view of his or her self before setting goals; otherwise he or she will get stuck in a continuing pattern of limiting beliefs.

Getting In the Right Mindset

Getting ready to break a bad habit is tough, and getting in the right mindset to break a habit in just a month is even tougher.

Steve Pavlina puts it best:

“We often psyche ourselves out of getting started by mentally thinking about the change as something permanent — before we’ve even begun…But what if you thought about making the change only temporarily — say for 30 days — and then you’re free to go back to your old habits? That doesn’t seem so hard anymore. Exercise daily for just 30 days, then quit. Maintain a neatly organized desk for 30 days, then slack off. Read for an hour a day for 30 days, then go back to watching TV.”

Its important to make sure that when you attempt to break a habit in 30 days, you’re picking a bad habit that you actually engage in on a daily basis. Seems obvious when you think about it, but if you try to break a habit that you don’t do on a daily basis, its a bit harder to gauge your success in a limited 30-day window.

Tips and Tricks

Hiram of Balanced Health Blueprint has a clever trick for tracking your daily progress in your quest to break a bad habit. Take 3 coins (or tokens or buttons, but really, coins are best) and label them 1-30 with a washable magic marker. For every day that passes and you don’t indulge in your bad habit, drop a coin in a jar.

If you make it to 30 days, buy yourself something small, but symbolic, with the coins to celebrate your triumph. But if you backslide, Hiram says, “Start over. Take your container and hold it up so you can see it clearly. Take a close look at all the coins inside representing your progress. Now dump out all the coins and start over.”

Conclusion

You should think of the habit-breaking process like a marathon. Every step you make towards your goal over a 30 day period gets you closer to the finish line.

What’s your bad habit? And do you think you could ever break that habit in 30 days? Tell us in the comments below!

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