We all struggle with creating positive habits. Since consistency is the key, how consistent do we have to be? How long does it take before a new action – writing, exercising, studying, working – becomes a habit, something we do automatically, without deflating our energy?

The field of personal development offers several answers: 21 days. Or 28 days. Or 40 days.

Hmm… 10 years ago I listened to a radio show about weight loss. The woman who was interviewed stated that it took her 9 (yes, NINE) years to create health habits that helped her maintain her ideal weight without significant effort. My frontal lobe nearly crashed under the gravity of such a statement. 9 years to create a habit! It can’t be. We are collectively doomed.

Needless to say, I loved the 28-day version way more, until I heard about the 21-day version which I loved even more.

Until I put it to practice.

My goal was to create a habit of exercising 6 days a week for 30 minutes every day.

The first 21 days went well. I was pumped, I was fit, I was happening. On days 22, 23, and 24 I easily and convincingly talked myself out of exercising. Clearly, 21-day plan did not work.

Neither did 28- or 40-day plans. I kept going.

After 8 months I hit a serious wall. It felt like pulling teeth, I had to drag myself by the hair to hit that exercise mat. Somehow I ploughed through, and it wasn’t until 2 and a half years later that I could comfortably let go of actively making myself exercise.

The truth is, there is no study to back up the 21- or 28- or 40-day promises.

Creating habits is not fast, and ‘one size’ fits exactly what it promises – one.

We really shouldn’t be surprised. For example, when I look at my kid struggle with something as simple as creating a teeth brushing habit, that 9 years looks like a great option.

What do I mean?

Well, shortly after the appearance of my son’s first teeth I have been heavily involved in his oral hygiene. He will be 12 in a month and like a malware ad in your computer, I ask more than twice a day, Did you brush your teeth, dude? It goes like this:

[Scene: 7:45 am at the front door, putting shoes on, about to get in the car to get to school.]

Me: Did you brush your teeth?

#: Can you pass me my back bag, please?

Me: Since you said please, here. Did you brush your teeth?

#: Huh?

Me: Did you brush your teeth?

#: Umm … yes.

Me: [With a look that could tame a dragon] Let me ask again, did you brush your teeth?

#: Who cares about brushing teeth all the time!

Me: Go brush your teeth!

#: This is so stupid! [Goes to the bathroom, sloshes around and comes back 30 seconds later.]

Me: Did you brush your teeth?

#: Yes! Smell!

Me: You are supposed to brush them for 2 minutes. Get back in there and BRUSH YOUR TEETH!

More than a decade with a personal motivation coach (me) and he still doesn’t have a 2-minute habit down.

Perhaps the more important question is not how long does it take to create a habit, but

why does it take so long?

Here’s the deal. Every morning when you wake up you get a new chance. Yes, you. ALL of you. The best of you AND her shadow; not just the positive, motivated, and success-oriented you, but also the procrastinating, argumentative, and I-might-die-tomorrow-so-why-bother you.

There you go. We forget that your shadow is just as excited and pumped up about the new chances – chances to sabotage and commit treason against your highest self, who also shows up excited and pumped up to achieve some goals.

The solution? Simply accept that these two prima-donnas audition for the lead role every morning. The more stage time one gets, the stronger the performance at the future auditions, the more partial the judge – you. All that matters is the moment of judgement.

If I nag at my kid every morning about brushing teeth, without worrying about the future full of rotten teeth, it will eventually become automatic – it has happened to millions of people, you included. If I nag at myself every lunch hour to work out, it will eventually become a habit – it has happened to millions of people, me included.

Does it happen in 2 months, 2 years, or 2 decades? Don’t worry about it, you might be dead by then. Just accept that to create a habit, all you ever have to focus on is reaching the sundown with the best possible cast, every day.