Forming Habits: Stairs for 21 Days

Posted by davidjsinger - September 22, 2015 - Be a Lifelong Learner, Be Healthy, Changes, Fitness, Habits, Healthspan, Learning, Longevity, Wellness - 2 Comments

A bunch of years ago, when my company moved into the office building where we still reside, a number of people began using the stairs to get to our offices on the fifth floor. I had not been a part of that group until returning from a vacation in Positano, Italy, where walking up and down stairs is a part of everyday life.

About 21 days after I began to take on this new habit, I was leaving the office with my friend Mark. I explained to how taking on this habit had been a great example of the 21 days takes to form a habit.

During the first days, I found myself arriving at our office after exiting the elevator on the fifth floor only to realize I had forgotten to take the stairs. It was kind of an “I could have had a V8” moment.

During the second week, I would walk into the building, press the elevator button, and when the elevator arrived I would realize I had meant to take the stairs, which I would then do.

During the third week, some days I remembered right away to take the stairs; other days I pressed the elevator button, but remembered to take the stairs.

As Mark and I were leaving the office at the end of the third week, and I was explaining my nearly-21 days to him, I turned at one point and he was gone. I realized I was standing in front of the elevator and he was standing at the entrance to the stairwell. I was amazed. Even when taking about the habit, I almost forgot about it.

Understanding the power of habits will help you embrace the way to make changes that stick.

As I’ve written about over and over, making changes that stick, which is something most people want, happens like this: take big changes, break them down into small pieces, and work on them one at time for the 21 days it takes to become a habit.

This method works because once it’s a habit—once it’s become automatic and routine—once you no longer have to think about it—once it no longer taxes your limited supply of willpower—you can add another, and another, and so on. And all the small changes add up to the big changes we want.

As my conversation with Mark showed, my stairs habit was not automatic yet. My routine was still leading me to the elevator on some days (like when I leave my street on a weekend to head to a leisure activity to the left, yet turn my car to the right towards work.)

But, I stuck with it and, soon my automatic behavior was to take the stairs. Another habit made.

What are some habits you would like to make, or break? What are your experiences? Join the conversation with your comments…

All the best,


  • Myra

    I recently recommended a 21 day change for a friend. A friend noted that there was a lot of alcohol in her life. She said she was going to become more aware and cut back on when and how much. I told her about 21 days and how if she really wanted to look at alcohol in her life she should dedicate 21 days to no alcohol.

    I am happy to say she went though her 21 days. There were those hard days at work where most people would want a drink. There were nights out with friends and watching them drink and not drinking.

    She was not an alcholic when this began. But by using 21 days she gained a great insight into her life and how people reach for a drink when they don’t need one.

    She did not go into this determined never to drink. But she did come out with a clearer idea of where and how she wants to drink in her life. Having completed her 21 days she came back and said she would be adding another 14 days to the 21 as she looked at her schedule and what was going on and a drink did not fit into her plans.

  • David Singer/SixSimpleRules

    Wow. Thanks for sharing. That’s a great story. Awareness is huge. Being present with yourself. Really good. Thank you!