Does it take 21 days to change a habit?
How do we tell our habits from our compulsions, and our compulsions from addictions?
One way to find out is to try to change our behavior – and see what happens.
This week I received the book and purple bracelet I’d ordered from A Complaint Free World. I’m wearing the bracelet. The idea is that you move the bracelet from one wrist to the other each time you complain, criticize or gossip. My goal is to get through a day without moving it from one wrist to the other.
Last night at dinner I said my goal was to go 21 straight days without moving the bracelet. This morning I realize that’s the long-term hope, but in fact the goal is to get through one day with it on the same wrist.
The one day goal is doable. The bigger target consists of making 21 of those days in a row.
I know a little bit about one day, a string of days, an eventual enrichment of years.
I used to drink too much, and I tried to cut back or quit on my own. It didn’t work. My secret knowledge was that I could not control my drinking, but my life looked pretty good. I wasn’t broke, unemployed, facing drunk driving charges or living out of my car. I couldn’t be an alcoholic.
The moment I admitted to another human being that I was, and needed help to deal with it, I felt myself literally supported by strong arms, and a weight lifted from my head and shoulders. I kept my word and went for help. It wasn’t an incidental commitment slotted into my busy life, but a commitment that rudely interrupted my work and social life for a good month at first.
In return, I was able to hold on to the gift of sobriety. Went to a lot of meetings in a lot of different rooms, met a lot of new people, and learned a lot. Including that I can do a difficult thing for a day if doing it forever sounds too long, or for ten minutes if doing it for a day sounds too long.
I haven’t had a drink since that conversation, that moment of admission which summoned something like angels’ wings to hold and comfort me.
It happened on March 9. Twenty-one years ago today.