100% commitment, as we have been discussing over the past few weekends, is an excellent and essential discipline to achieve something substantial in life. However, 100% commitment is a difficult practice, especially if it is a daily undertaking. That's why many people shy away from this discipline, and don't even give the discipline a chance. This I think is sad, because the discipline has so much potential to literally transform people's lives. Thus, I tell my students to start small. Starting small does not mean you start with 5% commitment and gradually increase your level of commitment to double digits and ultimately to 100% commitment; that will never work. Instead it means that you start your discipline of 100% commitment for short and manageable periods of time. For instance, it may be daunting to commit oneself to go on morning walks everyday for the rest of one's life, but it isn't to make this commitment for just one week or one month.
My favorite period for starting a 100% commitment is 40 days. The number 40 has special significance in religious traditions throughout the world. For example, after being baptized, Jesus fasted for 40 days and 40 nights in the Judaean desert. Similarly, Moses lived on Mount Sinai for forty days and forty nights before receiving the 10 commandments. In the Hindu tradition also, 40 days is a valued fasting period; devotees of Swami Ayappa undergo strict fasting for 40 days and on 41st day make their offerings at Sabarimala. One may wonder why is there so much importance given to 40-days across varied religious traditions. 40 is not a superstitious number. Instead, it appears that it takes approximately 40 days of unbroken practice to develop new neural pathways associated with a new habit. Habits, ultimately, are nothing but distinct patterns of neural connections. When we practice something again and again for long enough periods of time, we develop the neural connections necessary for the maintenance and mastery of a habit.
So if you want to start a habit that you always wished to inculcate within yourself, commit yourself to 30-40 successive days of uninterrupted practice. The cool thing about such a period is that it is not so long that it seems impossible to stay 100% committed for the duration, and it is not so short that it won't allow the formation of neural pathways crucial for the sustenance of the habit. Obviously, it is still possible to fall back to one's old pattern after a 40-days discipline, but the confidence and benefits one gains for staying committed to something for 40 days tip the balance in your favor to extend the commitment for longer periods of time, even for life.