We may, or not, believe Maxwell Maltz’s experience* that affirms the power of a 21-day commitment to change a habit. In fact, this belief has influenced so many people around the world, and is part of so many current self-development practices, that today, it is no longer important to know whether Maltz’s statement is scientifically proven or not. To some extent, when millions of people believe something, it makes it powerful enough to become true, because our belief creates our experience, our reality.
So, how many days to change a habit? How many days to re-shape a mind?
What is a habit?
A habit is a propensity, easily and rapidly created, to repeat the same thought or behavior. As soon as one thinks, or does, the same thing 3 times or more in a row, one will think or do the same thing again, without necessarily being aware of the process.
Habits take their strength and their compelling power from 2 ways of the human being’s functioning, which unfolds simultaneously and unconsciously. The first is the natural way the Divine has planned mankind’s evolution. The brain consumes the larger part of energy of the
whole body-mind organism, despite of its weight, which is about 3% of the total body weight. Thus, in order for the brain to evolve sustainably will require the natural tendency to decrease the amount of energy it consumes at each instant. Practically, avoiding the consumption of too much energy, means for the brain to use the same neuronal connections that are already functioning. Therefore, thinking and doing things the same way, without considering other alternatives.
The mind is like a plow pulled by 2 cows. Once the farmer has put the plowshare at the beginning of the furrow, the plowshare will follow the its path. The deeper the furrow, the easier the plowshare is guided. At some point, the plowshare will guide the cows, by preventing them to change direction! The more a habit has been validated over long, with the tacit agreement of the thinker, the more the habit is deeply rooted in the system. Of course, here, we only consider the habits that have been created in the current life and we don’t take into consideration the generational and systemic patterns.
The subconscious ritualization of our life:
The second way of functioning, as a consequence of the first, is our unconscious inclination to ritualize our whole life in short sequences. This segmentation of our routine makes things easier to handle, and brings back an unconscious sense of comfort and safety that nourishes
our primal reptilian brain. We may observe ourselves and assess, from the time we are waking up until going back to sleep, to which extent our daily life is segmented by rituals that unfold one after the other, always in the same way. Let’s take a short glance at our breakfast time. How many amongst us wake up in the same manner, get out the bed in the same way, do things before breakfast, take always the same beverage, at the same place, at the same time, in the same cup, with the same clothes, with the same food, looking at the same items (be it the flowers or the computer), listening to the same radio-channel in the morning, etc?
From this assessment, it’s is obvious that 80% of our thoughts will be similar to the ones of yesterday. Breakfast may be the first of our rituals. If we don’t pay attention, the whole course of our day is ritualized in the same manner.
A few years back, there was an advertising on a French channel, about a kitchen brand. A man, during a match of football, was running from the living room to the kitchen in total darkness, moving easily from one drawer to another, from one cupboard to another, and in this total obscurity, finding easily everything he was looking for, without losing a single instant of the match which was playing on the living room’s TV. The advertising was supposed to show how the kitchen was smartly conceived and organized, when no more attention needs to be paid, nor light is necessary to find anything. In fact, the advertising showed us the perfect way in which the brain had previously registered all the details of the kitchen by repeating the same gestures, so that the man became capable to do it all in in the dark, while listening to a match of football and eating a snack, before getting back to the living room.
How changing of environment becomes a great chance for changing our patterns:
Habits and environment are deeply entangled. When habits are nourished for long, they becomes patterns. When we behave like our parents, who behaved like their own parents, patterns pass down through generations. Then, to justify our lack of courage to change, we argue that our patterns are written in our DNA. That is untrue, since we know nowadays that we can change our DNA by changing our subconscious mind.
A habit is linked to the environment because the environment (meaning all the detailed parameters and circumstances under which the habit has been created: space, time, sensorial information, etc.) is part of the process of its creation. Whenever the environment changes, the habit may persist or not, depending on how long it is in place with the person and depending on the willingness one wants to invest to change. The habit may persist for a while, as an autonomous force. However, something is missing in the natural unfolding of the habit, which is the missing of the circumstances in which the habit has been created and usually unfolds. The habit may pop up, but with a subtle sensation of something missing, which will occur simultaneously.
Therefore, when it appears difficult to change a habit, or to get rid of a pattern, let’s change our environment. It becomes easier for a smoker to stop smoking when he travels. During his journey, all his environment is new, nothing calls back the cigarette. He may be surprised how he might even forget that he used to smoke.
When our environment changes, individually and, moreover, collectively, let’s be full of gratitude for this blessing, as at that very instance a natural way to re-shape our mind and our attitude towards one another can manifest.
Today, with the confinement, in the world in general and in Auroville in particular, we are experiencing a profound change of environment, which may first lead to confusion and distress. Our habits are agitated, our patterns feel threatened. We may start to wonder about the common sense in which we behaved before this deep shift. Of course, we may continue to behave temporarily like before, but also, evidently, the possibility to behave differently raises, as a consequence of the lack of one essential parameter for a pattern to unfold smoothly: the environment.
Gratitude for this 21-day confinement:
Today it is not that important, whether we are comfortable or not with this 21-day confinement. Whether this law of 21 days for changing a habit is true or not doesn’t make any difference.
Today, let’s behave innovatively! Let’s consider our habits and patterns, individually and collectively, and decide to change! Let’s welcome this little spark of difference and confusion that resonates in us and in our environment, at each second of these new circumstances! Let’s grasp it with gratitude. Let’s finally become compassionate with one another rather than narrowing ourselves down in our so well-known patterns that used to lead us to nothing but selfishness!
Let’s not allow our habits to overcome our new environment and become strong and powerful so that no new conditions will never have any chance to sweep them away.