About 45 years ago, in an undergraduate psychology class, I learned that it took 21 days to develop a new habit. At that time, while studying to be a teacher, I remember thinking how that “fact” would make my future teaching more difficult. Twenty-one days for a student to develop a single habit?! Well, it turns out that wasn’t true! But don’t get your hopes up. For all of us who have taught for a while can attest, it usually takes much longer! It turns out that “21 day” notion was extrapolated from an incredibly popular book from the 1960s. Recent research, however, concludes that it takes anywhere from 18 to 254 days – with the average being 66 days – for an action to become a habit. Way back in college, I thought 21 days would be a challenge. Little did I know that time would reveal it is often a much, much greater hurdle. But information is power and knowing that explains so much of what goes on in classes and rehearsals every day. More important, it informs our teaching. Now we know why we must stay incredibly vigilant about posture, hand position, embouchure, marking parts, breathing, class rules, rehearsal etiquette, or any other habit pattern we try to instill. It also explains the discrepancies in how long it takes some students to develop those habits. By understanding those two aspects of habit development, we can take the continued, necessary steps in our teaching to foster that conditioning. And our students will surely be the beneficiaries of that in ways that are innumerable!
Peter Loel Boonshaft, Director of Education