The Huberman 21-day habit protocol is a research-backed system for forming new habits inspired by neuroscientist Andrew Huberman’s research on the topic.
This simple yet effective method leverages our knowledge of neuroplasticity and habit formation to help instill positive behaviors that stick.
In this post, we will share everything that Andrew Huberman has covered on this topic and provide actionable recommendations to help you get started!
Key Takeaway: By incorporating just 4-6 new habits daily in 21-day intervals with in-built flexibility, it sets you up for success in making positive changes that endure.
Why 21 Days?
The choice of 21 days for this habit protocol is strategic.
Research shows that it takes an average of 21 days for a new behavior to become automatic through the rewiring of neural pathways in the brain.
21 days is thought to be the ideal timeframe to reinforce a habit to the point where it becomes effortless to perform.
However, some research has indicated this 21-day figure may more realistically be 2 to 3 months.
Additionally, breaking the 21 days into 2-day cycles provides further neurological benefits.
Studies indicate that performing a habit sequence for 2 consecutive days taps into the brain’s use of circadian rhythms.
This repetition on a 48-hour basis aids in solidifying the new neural connections that form a habit.
How the 21-Day System Works
The 21-day system consists of two main components:
1. Identifying 6 Habits to Work On
To start, you select six new habits that you would like to focus on establishing. As neuroscientist Andrew Huberman states:
“You set out to perform 6 new habits per day across the course of 21 days. Why 6 and why 21? Well, we’ll talk about that in a moment. But the idea is, you write down 6 things that you would like to do every day for 21 days.”
The habits can relate to any area of life, like health, productivity, relationships, or personal growth.
2. Aiming for 4-6 Habits Daily
During the 21 days, the goal is to perform 4-6 of the selected habits each day.
Perfection is not expected – the intention is to complete 4-5 on average.
As Huberman explains:
“However, the expectation is that you’ll only complete 4 to 5 of those each day. Okay? So built into this is a kind of permission to fail, but it’s not failure, because it turns out that this approach to forming habits is based not so much on the specific habits that you’re trying to form, but the habit of performing habits.”
This flexibility is key to the success of the system.
Benefits of a 21-Day Habit-Forming System
There are several key advantages to using a structured 21-day system for habit change:
- Prevents overloading – By limiting new habits to 4-6 per day, the protocol prevents the common mistake of trying to change too much too quickly. This overload leads to failure, but the system accounts for our human limitations.
- Provides flexibility – Since perfection is not required, missing a day or not completing all habits is built-in. This flexibility improves adherence and leads to more successful habit formation overall.
- Tests automaticity – The protocol assesses which habits stick after 21 days through a testing period. This ensures habits are truly automatic before taking on new behaviors.
- Focuses on consistency – Performing a consistent number of daily habits creates a ritual, which is more important than the specific behaviors. Consistency yields increased automaticity.
- Allows for progress – After testing habit retention, you can gradually add more habits in 21-day cycles according to your individual progress and needs.
21-Day Habit Examples
The Huberman protocol provides a framework that can be used to form any habit you want to cultivate.
Here are some examples of positive habits you could focus on:
- Drink 8 glasses of water daily
- Eat 3 servings of vegetables
- Take a 15 minute walk
- Stretch for 10 minutes
- Limit alcohol to 2 days per week
- Wake up 30 minutes earlier
- Make to-do list every morning
- Practice focus session for 1 hour
- Only check email 2x daily
- Declutter desk area for 5 minutes
- Write in a gratitude journal
- Take 5 minutes for deep breathing
- Practice mindfulness during 1 activity
- Take a technology-free break once a day
- Do a random act of kindness
Personal Growth Habits
- Read non-fiction for 30 minutes
- Listen to a podcast on self-improvement
- Take an online course on a weekday
- Practice public speaking for 5 minutes
- Contact a mentor once a week
No matter what habits you choose, the 21-day habit protocol provides an evidence-based system to help you turn those goals for positive change into automatic behaviors.
With consistency over 21 days and inherent flexibility, it sets you up for success.
What types of habits should I choose?
Any habit that relates to a positive change you want to make in your life is fair game. Start with just 6 that feel manageable. Common areas are health, productivity, relationships, personal growth, or recreation.
Do I need to complete all 6 habits every day?
No, the goal is 4-6 on average. Some days you may get 6, other days only 3 or 4. The flexibility prevents setting unrealistic expectations.
What if I miss a day entirely?
Don’t worry if you miss a day here and there. Just resume the protocol the next day. The system already accounts for imperfect adherence.
How do I know if a habit has stuck after 21 days?
After the 21 days, take a break from deliberately trying to do the habits. See which ones you are still doing consistently without needing to push yourself. Those are the habits that have become automatic.
Can I do more than one 21-day cycle?
Absolutely. After testing habit retention, you can start another 21-day cycle by adding new habits according to your progress. Use multiple cycles to gradually build habits over time.