In a row. To break into something you want or break out of something you don’t.
Three consecutive encounters with anything begin to lay down foundations of new neural patterns. In neuroscience, people’s brain imaging changes after 3 to 21 consecutive days (which is the figure with which most of us are familiar). The Behaviorists of the 20th century showed us that three consecutive new/altered encounters can do quite a bit. As such, it shows up in most clinical research on how animals feel or behave, and if/how we can make changes: three days of; three efforts at; three feedings; three stimuli; three fill-in-the-blank-here.
This goes for angry people becoming less angry (lookup hug studies), addiction alterations, depressed people becoming more positive, inactive people becoming active, and so forth.
In all of the George Cahill research on starvation and metabolism, he found distinct changes (beneficial ones) in the physical biomarkers on or just after the third day in a row.
In the nutrition science world, we know well the switch that gets flipped with nutritional ketosis on or just after the third day. There is a testable state change which favors fat burning after a three day effort at it.
Everyone is familiar with entering a new class or workplace, and how by the third day sociological laws govern who our peer or friend set becomes. Generally, by the fourth day of the same class, your brain has determined with whom you exchange greetings, if you’ll engage with an instructor or not, what types of questions you will and won’t ask, etc.
You’re probably thinking “three is enough?” Well, no, not to keep everything going. The longer the better. But I am saying you owe yourself the opportunity to try AT LEAST three, because often we have one experience and we’re all set. You’ve heard of “first impressions.” On social media, you’ve probably noticed that after you disagrees with someone once, you won’t even agree with someone when they’re supportive of you. I see all the time people saying that if you don’t align perfectly with them on one belief, they’ll cease interacting with you forever. Our minds are ready to forge a perpetual finality based on minimal data.
Behaviorism ascended in the field of psychology in order to try to make it or at least a branch of it into a rigorous science. Observe behavior. Take note of patterns. Simple. Then alter patterns in order to create new behaviors, and we find new and reliable outcomes.
This Behaviorist approach seemed to come at odds with introspection, the inner space, repressed memories, and lots of other pieces of psychology which were/are great for expression and artistic outcomes, but lack any sort of dependability or scientific repeatability. But some have seen a way to make it a both/and proposition, rather than an either/or debate.
Regardless of where you want to cast your lot, there’s something intrinsically powerful about 3 consecutive encounters. It comes up in religious literature, in phobia studies (both development of and recovery from), in immunity cascades against infection, in post-surgical healing, and I’m sure many, many other systems.
Is it magic? No. It’s some sort of physical and chemical property which rears it’s head in all of biology. I’ve seen it as THE variable which makes or breaks long term success. It’s as if people must face and “overcome” three consecutive parties, holidays, illnesses, holidays, weekends, weeks, months or years, in order to get the deep brain to be familiar with, comfortable with, and begin to get skillful at the new way of living.
I used to take clients who came to me with short-term goals. Then I realized this basically dictates that their baseline of fitness will never exceed the period of my coaching. People get “in-shape” for an event, only to find they completely fall off afterward. The reality is that they needed to proceed through that AND the next two events in order to coax the mind. As such, I’ve had a few people with whom I can’t work any longer, because they refuse to find a sustainable maintenance program. 99% of the people who have the most impressive short term transformations have lackluster long term progress.
You see, there is no higher correlation with intelligent decisions among more “rational” people. Vices feature as high or higher among high IQs. We do what is familiar, not what is sensible. We get motivated. We logically review a perfectly reasonable way forward. We turn it into goals or New Years resolutions. And within about 5 seconds, our brain defaults to the prior patterns. You’ve already seen this in debates. People can be confronted with a hurricane of counter-evidence, and 99 out of a 100 times won’t budge.
Do people really have difficulty quitting drugs or emotional self-sabotage because they haven’t yet encountered a convincing enough argument in favor or living better? Come on. Let’s stop with the pretense.
You already know a lot of changes which would improve your life. YOU have made the intellectual and emotional connection with a different way forward. I can’t change that. No one can. And that isn’t the issue. We can circle back to paradigm shifts when people are humble and ready. But for now, HOW do YOU do what it is YOU already determined YOU’D like to do but aren’t doing?
Make it through three consecutive days, three consecutive encounters with your triggers, three consecutive interfaces with the things that trip you up. Just focus on that. Three consecutive days of making no excuses. Three consecutive days of whatever it is. When you “fail,” try again, three times in a row. Fall down three times. Get up three times. Face a desire to quit without quitting three consecutive times. Get up early three days in a row. Go to bed early three days in a row. Forgive someone three times in a row. Go three weekends in a row where you overcome some self-sabotaging behaviors. Go three months in a row for foreign language or instrument practice. Be understanding of people with whom you disagree three years in a row.
Whatever it is, just try three in a row. Be honest with yourself three times in a row. Say you’ll do it and follow through three times in a row.