Desi Aragon

Modern Day Muse

How Long It Takes To Make Gratitude (Or Any Practice) A Daily Habit


Establishing a gratitude practice is among one of the most recommended behaviors for joyful living.

I’ve been asked many times how long it will take to make a gratitude practice as regular as, say, brushing our teeth.

My team decided to do a little research to see if there is any new science on the topic since it has long been thought that you can adopt a new habit in 21 days. We discovered that this is not actually the truth.

A Minimum of 21-Days

We found out that the 21-day idea came from a plastic surgeon back in the 1950’s. You may have heard of him. Leonard Matlz was the author of a book popular back in the 1960’s called Psycho-Cybernetics. In fact, he may be a pioneer in what is now known as the self-help movement.

The way Maltz came up with the 21-day concept was based on his observations of patients after he performed an operation. For instance, after performing a nose job surgery, he noticed that it would take the patient about 21 days to get used to their new face. And, when a patient lost an arm or a leg to amputation, again, Maltz noticed the patient would sense a phantom limb for about 21 days.

Those observations prompted Maltz to examine his own attempts at changing his behavior. He noticed it also took about 21 days to establish a new habit. That in turn prompted him to write his book in which he said, “These, and many other commonly observed phenomena tend to show that it requires a minimum of about 21 days for an old mental image to dissolve and a new one to jell.”

People jumped on the 21-day train and it left the station, never to slow down or look back! They totally left off “minimum of about.”

The Real Timeline for Establishing New Habits

Fast forward to 2014 when new research came to light. One study was conducted by Phillippa Lally, a health psychology researcher at University College London. In the study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, Lally and her research team decided to figure out just how long it actually takes to form a habit.

On average, Lally and her team found that it takes more than two months before a new behavior becomes automatic — 66 days to be exact.

And how long it takes a new habit to form can vary widely depending on the behavior, the person, and the circumstances. In Lally’s study, it took anywhere from 18 days to 254 days for people to form a new habit.

Establishing A Gratitude Practice

Practicing gratitude is not as complex as learning a new language or learning to play a musical instrument. However, it does require daily attention in for the practice to become second nature. Repetition is important.

Right now is the perfect time to begin a gratitude practice. If you do begin and keep it up regularly for 3 months, chances are that you will likely find yourself acknowledging gratitude for people, events and circumstances that come your way as a normal thing to do. You may even find that you are grateful for the opportunity to brush your teeth!

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