It may take years to change deep seated mindsets, but research leads us to believe that most people can create a new mindset in 3 months.
It was difficult to find sufficient research on the issue, so I’ll take you through some of the research around forming habits, then I’ll do a case study of myself. Let’s go!
How Long To Form Habits?
There is some actual scientific data regarding how long it takes to form habits. There are two studies I’ve found referenced many times online.
The first is a bestselling book called Psycho-Cybernetics. It’s a self help book written by a plastic surgeon named Maxwell Maltz. In the book he claims that
“It usually requires a minimum of about 21 days to effect any perceptible change in a mental image. Following plastic surgery it takes 21 days for the average patient to get used to his new face. When an arm or leg is amputated the ‘phantom limb’ persists for about 21 days. People must live in a new house for about three weeks before it begins to ‘seem like home.’ 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”-Dr. Maxwell Maltz in Psycho-Cybernetics 1960
Dr. Maltz’s conclusion seems to be mutilated online. You can find hundreds of articles and responses with claims that it takes 21 days to change your habits.
But that’s not the claim. The claim is that it take a minimum of 21 days for an old mental state to dissolve. And the context of that mental state is basically how long it takes for people to get used to a physical change of their body.
Now this isn’t exactly scientific data in the traditional sense, but it is anecdotal evidence from someone who has experience watching people adjust mentally to new circumstances.
There was also a study done in 2009 by Phillipa Lally to measure how long it took people to create a new habit. The study was named How habits are formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world.
The abstract of the study explains that 95% of the qualified participants were able to create a new habit, and the time needed was between 18 and 254 days. The conclusion is that there is considerable variation in how long it takes people to create a new habit.
Online I’ve seen this paper referenced as evidence that it takes 66 days to form a new habit. But the paper calls 66 days the median value. That means that half the participants took longer than 66 days and half took less time.
Either way I think we can conclude that 21 days is possible but unlikely for most people wanting to form a new habit. About half of people will be able to create a new habit in 66 days, and most will be able to form a new habit in less than a year.
Does This Data Translate To Mindset?
So the question I have is whether this data can be applied to changing mindset as opposed to behavior. I think we can, but only for a subset of what constitutes a mindset shift.
There are all kinds of mindsets that humans want to change:
- I want to believe I can achieve a goal
- Prevent myself from getting angry
- Think more favorably about family and friends
- More mental fortitude to persevere through difficulties
- Quit caring so much about what others think
If we want to apply the findings for habit forming behavior to mindset, I believe we need to look more closely at the mindset itself.
A mindset that could be a habit
Let’s take an example, believing you can achieve a goal. If you wanted to go about changing this mindset, you might spend time every day telling yourself that you can achieve your goal.
You can act on this every day. You can visualize yourself achieving your goal, you can take steps towards your goal, and after a period of time your mindset will change.
I think 18-254 day range is applicable to this situation because you can act on this mindset change every day. I believe that’s the differentiator. If you can work on every aspect of your mindset shift daily, then it can be achieved in the 18-254 day range.
A mindset that might not be a habit
There are other types of mindset shifts that can’t really be worked on daily. Let’s say you want to stop caring so much about what others think of you.
Sure you can speak words of affirmation and visualize yourself reacting to words of others, but ultimately there are a lot of factors here out of your control.
You can’t predict everything others will do or say that you will have a reaction to. And you can’t predict all the different people you will meet throughout your life.
I think about it like this. If you want to do jumping jacks every day when you wake up, you can act on that every day, but if you want to do jumping jacks every time you get the hiccups, you can only act on that when you get hiccups. It will take you much longer to develop the hiccup habit because you only get to practice it occasionally.
I think mindsets are the same way. Some mindsets can be practiced every day. But for some we must wait for the right opportunity to practice. If you get angry while playing sports (this was/is me), then you only get to practice under the right circumstances.
I think these mindset shifts can take much longer.
Changing Your Mindset: A Case Study
Since I couldn’t find any real data around the mindset shift time frame, I decided to think back on all the times I’ve tried to change my mindset and how long it took me.
I have had mindset changes in a matter of a day or two. This only happens when the mindset is an opinion or view of the world.
This has happened to me many times. It’s usually regarding some political view, but there have been times when it’s something less important.
Here’s one example. I used to think the band Thirty Seconds To Mars was super mainstream and poppy. I considered myself to be more of an indie rock fan and without ever listening to them, I just assumed I wouldn’t like them.
Then my favorite band (Muse) toured near the city I live in and their opening band was Thirty Seconds To Mars. I loved the show and I loved their music, and it only took me about 3-4 songs before I changed my view.
These are the kinds of mindsets I’ve been able to change almost immediately. The thing is, when this happens, I rarely planned on changing my mindset, it just happens when I come across new information.
30-60 day changes
I have achieved small shifts in mindset after a month or two on numerous occasions. These are usually confidence related or a belief that I will reach an achievement.
Here’s my example. When I first started investing I had a lot of doubts about being able to successfully invest in real estate. There was a lot of knowledge to gain, there were a lot of mistakes that were possible, and I had a family member who had tried and lost a lot of money.
So to get over my mindset of fear of failure I began using affirmations. Every day I said out loud to myself “You will purchase a rental property at a great price” and “Your meticulous due diligence will catch all potential risks and eliminate your chance of failure.”
After a month or so of this I found myself gathering up more and more knowledge around the risks of real estate. The properties Kate and I were analyzing started to separate themselves into good deals and bad deals. My due diligence process got more comprehensive and I felt like I was more aware of what could go wrong.
My mindset changed in a few months and now I felt like there was no way we wouldn’t make money on our first property.
And guess what? We did.
Years long changes
Other changes to my mindset have taken years to cultivate and continue to be a journey. When you spend years living in a particular mindset, and it becomes very core to your personality, it can take far longer than a few months to change.
And honestly a lot of mindsets I’ve been working on changing for years, still stick around to some degree. For example, I’ve been called a jerk countless times. Insensitive, rude, difficult, cocky, a bully, too competitive. And those things have absolutely been true at times, especially when I was younger.
I’ve been working for years to become more sensitive to how my words and actions affect others, and I’ve made enormous strides in this area. But sometimes I still hear the voices of those people who called me out when I was going too far, and I beat myself up. I don’t think I’ll ever get rid of that part of myself, but I can continue to improve.
Keep moving forward
When approaching these difficult to change mentalities, I like to use a mantra from the movie Rocky Balboa:
“It ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take, and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done.”
One of the things I’ve been beating into my brain for the past decade is that you have to be able to accept the fact that you’ll screw up, you’ll take too long, you’ll procrastinate, you’ll relapse, you’ll fail. And you’ll do those things over and over and over again. But if you can keep building on the progress you’ve made in the past, even when you relapse, even when you fail, then you will succeed. Guaranteed.
If you can create that mindset in yourself, then everything is possible, even if it takes 20 years.
My Personal Best Approach For A Mindset Shift
One of the books that helped me figure out my personal best process for changing my mindset was The Miracle Morning.
The book lists out the six most popular and effective mindset changing methodologies. They are silence, affirmations, visualization, exercise, reading and writing.
I tried all six and found that the two that helped me the most were affirmations and visualization.
So this is what I do every day:
- I read a list of sentences out loud affirming the person I want to be and the goals I plan to achieve. “I will take Unbound Investor to $15,000 per month income by 2024” is one of my affirmations.
- With each affirmation I read out loud, I close my eyes and visualize myself doing the things that make the statement true. For my Unbound Investor affirmation I visualize myself creating amazing content, and I imagine people reading my blog and creating success in their own lives.
If there’s a new mindset I want to work on, I just add a new affirmation to my list. And that’s it. That’s my process.
Ultimately, everyone is different. There’s not a single length of time that a person can expect to change their mindset, and some thoughts are harder to change than others.
When I want to change I use the Rocky Balboa mantra, “keep moving forward.” Forgive yourself for messing up and relapsing, but never give up on your goals. Even if you do give up, don’t be afraid to take up the mantle again later.
Best of luck, and as always,