21 Days: For Those Who Hate Habits

Author name
Isabella Kwai, '16

I heard once that it takes 21 days to kick-start a new habit. Stick to something for 21 short days, every day, and hey, presto, you’ve found yourself a new habit. Want to lose weight? 21 days of eating right. Feel like quitting coffee? 21 days of resisting Von der Heyden. Fit in an episode of New Girls every day? Definitely 21 days of post-class watching (or more). See, the idea is that after 21 days, it becomes easy. Repeat anything enough times and you’re bound to get stronger, both physically and mentally at the appointed task. Well I’m not sure if entirely believe that 21 is the be-all end-all magic number, but having attempted it myself, I’ll admit there’s some truth to the rule.

Interestingly, it’s been about 21 days since we emerged from winter break for the gothic arches of campus. And I recently began wondering if I’ve gotten better at doing college, if three weeks of managing new classes, caring for myself and conversing with real-life people has somehow acclimatized me to this often exhilarating, often improbable way of life.

In a way, it feels like we’ve been at Duke forever and these three weeks might have instead encompassed three months. I’m always amazed how quickly I can swap the rattling Sydney trains for the rattling C2, how briskly I can navigate from Perkins to Gross Chem, how something like talking to my parents is so easily brushed aside. It’s almost as if we never left for the glorious winter break, such is the instinctive nature of our actions.

Yet on the other hand, living at Duke never quite feels manageable. As a sophomore, there’s the expectation that by now, four semesters in, you’ve worked it out. I don’t think so. No matter how many times I’ve been assigned a long paper, it still stresses me out every time I write one. No matter how many people I’ve met, I still get nervous when I talk to some people for the first time. No matter how many times I’ve tried to clean my room, it still gravitates towards the chaos of a radioactive waste zone. 21 days of Duke everyday hasn’t necessarily made ‘doing’ Duke a habit. I doubt 200 days would make the college experience feel that way.

Yet what is considered successfully conquering the Duke experience? I have often felt unraveled here, but the beauty of success is that it is inherently subjectively. With every new semester, I have made mistakes and learned from them and achieved in other areas and rejoiced over them. There is always the sense that, slowly and surely, I become a little wiser and more self-actualized. I might never quite be used to the way things work, but perhaps it’s not habit that teaches us to be successful people. Perhaps it’s overcoming old challenges and the persistence to keep learning.

So it’s been 21 days. Have you gotten better at doing Duke? The greatest thing about that sentence is that it can mean whatever you want. You may decide to quit coffee. You may decide to start that paper earlier. Or you may decide that old habits die hard after all. At the end of the day, we don’t need to force ourselves to habitualize Duke – we’re learning anyway.