Friday 22 May 2009

30 or 40 Days to Change a Habit?

I came across in interesting concept in this article on Steve Pavlina’s excellent website. Its basic premise is that sometimes when we make an intention to change something in our life or get rid of a bad habit, we find the thought of the long trek ahead towards that change becoming concrete daunting. Pavlina’s idea is that we don’t say “I will never smoke/swear/eat junk again” as this feels too difficult, but to abstain from the habit or to execute the new one only for 30 days. He argues that the idea that “I will not smoke/swear/eat junk for the next 30 days and then go back to what I did before if I want to” is much more manageable. The added bonus is that if we have abstained/acted on our intention for 30 days, chances are that we will stick to our original habit. Another benefit he mentions is that it gives us the opportunity to experiment, so we might make the change and realise that it didn’t benefit us – for instance with turning vegetarian or trying out a new hobby.

I thought I would give this a go with something I have always found challenging – sugar. I am finding myself not drinking enough water and drinking coke with every meal instead. So just for the next 30 days I will drink no coke and drink water instead. One thing I know about coke is that although it is very mildly addictive because it seems to make you more thirsty instead of quenching your thirst, if you don’t drink it for a while, you lose your inclination towards it completely (Long-Suffering Sister and my Cousin A haven’t drunk fizzy drinks in years).

I was discussing this with my husband when we went for a walk last night (him listening and me panting hard from trying to walk fast and talk very fast and non-stop at the some time) and he liked the idea, except he mentioned one thing which I thought was interesting.

He says in Islam the indication is that it takes 40 days to change a habit, not 30. Some examples of this that I found were:

And remember We appointed forty nights for Moses, and in his absence ye took the calf (for worship), and ye did grievous wrong ~ Al-Quran (2:51)

The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: “Whoever drinks alcohol and gets drunk, his prayer will not be accepted for forty days and if he dies he will go to Hell. But if he repents, Allaah will accept his repentance. ~ Ibn Maajah (3377).

"The creation of everyone of you starts with the process of collecting the material for his body within forty days and forty nights in the womb of his mother. Then he becomes a clot of thick blood for a similar period (40 days) and then he becomes like a piece of flesh for a similar period. Then an angel is sent to him (by Allah) and the angel is allowed (ordered) to write four things; his livelihood, his (date of) death, his deeds, and whether he will be a wretched one or a blessed one (in the Hereafter) and then the soul is breathed into him.” ~ Bukhari (93:546)

There is also a curious link here that indicates the significance of the period of 40 days in the lives of some of the Prophets (AS).

Okay, so maybe 40 days without cola then.
What would you try to abstain for from 40 days?


  1. bismillah

    as salamu alaykum Umm Salihah

    How are you? InshaAllah I hope well.

    I would love to go 40 days without any type of sugar except for fruits and honey, etc. We've already removed sugar from our home. Some of my other goals have to do with organization, exercising, etc. InshaAllah we'll see. I used to be a soda addict by the way. HUGE addict. One day we just removed it too and now it isn't tempting anymore. I may have a Jones Soda on occasion (natural cane sugar only) but I have a lot of control that I never had before, Alhamdulillah.

    Wish you well on your journey. : )

  2. I would like to stop biting my nails! Only three times in my life did they grow out and look proper. After i gave birth to my two kids and didn't have time to even think about nails, bitten or not, and one time I just willed myself to stop, sadly like three months later I accidently got into the habit of clicking them against my teeth thus putting them in constant contact with my mouth and the inevitable happeend they are gone again...

    So I'd like to do that.

    Another thing, abouthte 40 days I heard this was true too. Sometimes after 30 days we still feel weak in our new habit but another good ten really solidifies it.

    Another 40 for your collection is every 40 days we are tried with an affliction. So every 40 days imagine we are happy then SOMETHING big happens to upset us and we have to rely on our faith in Allah to get through it then we are happy again, and again and again every 40 days subhanAllah, when i get upset I just try to put it into perspective that in another 40 days I'm gonna be upset again so I should just chill out now and save up my energy :D

    Beautiful info you gave about 40 though... amazing subhanAllah. The more I read about the orderliness of Allah creating things the more affirmed I am about the Perfectness of Allah and Islam.


  3. that last quote is really interesting, the webite link too

    did it work then?

  4. well, good luck sister with your good commitments...

  5. Assalam-alaikam,

    Umm Layth,
    I'm doing well sister, jazakh'Allah-khairun for asking and for your encouragement. I think sugar is one of the next ones later on my list, but maybe with a small allowance for chocolate now and again. I like the idea of goals for housekeeping, and exercise, another area I am thinking about regarding goal-setting is faith, that's something I want to experiment with to see if it benefits me.

    Sis AMW,
    jazakh'Allah-khairun for the further 40 day's anecdote, I have never heard of this one before, but it certainly has given me food for though.

    I'm still off the coke, despite various tempting moments.

    Sister Lili,
    jazakh'Allah-khairun for the encouragement.

  6. Jazakullah Khair for linking our site.

  7. sheych Nazim Hakkani in his book wrote 40 days to leave or to get habit.