How Long Does It Take To Let Go?

An Instant or a Lifetime?

In a previous post titled How to Boost Your Mind Power, I said that our minds are cluttered with useless thoughts, our days with time-wasting habits, and our homes with unnecessary objects. All of that clutter is wasting our mental bandwidth and reducing our mind power.

The more we let go of useless thoughts, habits, and objects, the more mental bandwidth we are going to free up in our minds, which will result in greater mind power.

Sure, it is not easy to let go all of our thoughts, habits, and objects in a single day. That’s why I suggest letting them go one by one, day by day. In the meantime, I received some feedback along the lines of “the one a day schedule isn’t realistic. It takes 21 days to let go of an old habit or to form a new habit.”

The Myth of 21 Days to Form a New Habit

There is a misbelief that it takes 21 days to form a new habit circulating in the personal development circles. If you subscribe to the 21 days myth, I have some good news and some bad news for you. Some habits take much less than that to form, some much more. In any case, I have a question for you.

How long does it take to make a decision?

  • Does it take a day?
  • Does it take a week?
  • Does it take a year?
  • Does it take a life time?
  • Or does it take an instant?

The answer is as long as you want it to take.

You can make a decision in an instant or you can procrastinate your whole life.

The issue here isn’t how long it would take to let go of a habit. The issue is making the decision to let it go. Once you make that decision, it’s about sticking to that decision and dealing with the consequences.

The Meaning Factor

If you have a silly, small habit like teasing your colleagues, you can quit it immediately once you understand that it is counterproductive. Sure, you might have urges here and then, but your understanding of its uselessness will prevent you from doing it.

In some cases, it is completely sufficient to understand the uselessness of a thought or a habit to let go of it. You don’t need to go through the “21 day period.”

In some cases, an a-ha moment is all you need to understand the silliness of a thought or a habit and to drop it immediately. You even feel embarrassed about it and you regret it that you had it in the first place.

In other cases, a traumatic event can make a huge impact on you and on your world view, which can result in letting go of a lot of useless thoughts and habits.

Yet in other cases, you might need to check yourself in to an institution to get treated for your addictions and have to deal with the consequences for the rest of your life.

Still in other cases, you need to make a conscious effort, day after day. I make a conscious effort to keep my diet under control and to stick to my exercise schedule, every single day except the holidays, because it is so easy to slide into old habits.

Conclusion

In other words, if you subscribe to the flawed idea that you can let go of a thought or a habit in 21 days, you are either missing an opportunity to let it go much faster or you will get frustrated after the 21 days in case of a habit that takes much longer to let go of.

In either case, this isn’t about how long it takes to let go of a thought or habit. This is about taking a step towards the right direction every day, even if it’s a baby step. That’s the idea behind the 1% improvements.

Burak Bilgin
Software developer with a Ph.D. and 15 years of experience. I write daily on personal development and life lessons. Sign up to my email newsletter to receive a weekly overview of my latest content on personal development and life lessons.

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