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Saturday, November 20, 2010

What do Astronauts and New Habits have in Common? By Janet Callaway

The answer is much more than you think. No matter what “habit” you want to develop, you always hear “do it for 30 days” and then the habit will be set. Personally, I always thought “they” said that because it gives you time to get used to a new routine and a month is a convenient measure of time.

It turns out that's true though probably not for why you think. In fact, there is a physiological reason for it that was discovered quite by chance by NASA.

Back in its early days, NASA designed an experiment to determine the physiological and psychological effect of the spatial disorientation the astronauts would experience in the weightless environment. What NASA did is outfit the potential astronauts with convex goggles which flipped everything in their field of vision 180 degrees.

In other words, their world was turned completely upside down. The potential astronauts were required to wear these special goggles 24 hours a day—even when they were asleep. The scientists then sat back to observe what happened.

Initially, according to elevated blood pressure and other vital signs, the potential astronauts suffered from extreme stress and anxiety—hardly surprising since their worlds were upside down. As time went on they gradually adapted to some of the stress though not all of it.

On the 26th day, something amazing happened for one of the astronauts. His world turned right-side up again even though he continued to wear the goggles 24 hours a day. From days 26-30, the same thing happened for each of the astronauts; their worlds turned right-side up.

What the scientists discovered is that after 26-30 days of this continuous stream of new input—think new habit—the astronauts' brains created neural connections to “rewire” their brains. This would be an amazing story if this were the end; it's not.

NASA did the experiment again with a slight change. This time the potential astronauts  took the goggles off for a short period of time partway through the experiment. The result? They had to start over. When they put the goggles back on and left them on until the 30th day, their worlds were still upside down.

What the scientists discovered is the brain needs about 30 uninterrupted days for new neural connections to form.

Next time you are ready to develop a new habit, learn a new skill, start a new diet or implement your action plan for success, remember the astronauts. Allow your brain the 30 days for the new neural pathways to be built and keep your commitment to yourself. Do the activity for 30 continuous days. The “good” news is there is scientific proof that it works; the “bad” news is you are the only one who can do it for you.

How about you? Are you ready to invest in yourself for 30 days to get something that you want? Would love to hear your thoughts.


  1. This is a VERY interesting piece of research! Thx for bringing to our attention.

  2. Now, let's apply this knowledge and actually create new habits which will better our lives. 30 days from now I will be better than I am now. Imagine what I'll become after 60 days, 90 days, etc.

  3. Great post Janet. Knowing this will help me keep going if it's a new habit I definitely want to develop.

  4. Hey Janet, that's a great story that I've heard several times now. Can you cite the NASA research source?

  5. Actually, Kim, I have a request into NASA to locate the original story because, like you, I have heard the story many times over the years.