So what is the significance of the number 40 and periods of time?
You may have heard that God flooded the earth for 40 Days and nights or that the Jews wandered in the desert for 40 years. You may have heard that Christ fasted in the wilderness for 40 Cays before he began his ministry. And if you’re anything like me, you have wondered, well, why 40? What is so significant about the number 40?
I wanted to use this blog to go into more detail about what I’ve learned about the number 40 and why I used it all as a basis for my latest self-help book: Transform YOU in 40 Days.
The thing I learned about the number 40 was that it signified a transitional period. Christ fasted for 40 Days between his life as a carpenter and his life as a wandering minister/teacher of religion.
Not only did Christ have his 40-Day fast, but his ministry was a 40-month teaching period! (Transitional for the Jews swapping between the law of Moses and the new law.) Then, after his resurrection, he ministered unto his disciples for 40 Days before ascending into heaven, giving them a transitional period to adjust to their roles with the new understanding that he wouldn’t always physically be with them.
But then besides Christ, we have Moses. Moses left Egypt at age 40, then came back 40 years later, freed the Jews, and led them in the desert for 40 years, (during which time he journeyed up into the mountains alone at least twice, for 40 Days apiece, to be with the Lord and receive new commandments for the Israelites) later dying within eyesight of their promised land.
But that still doesn’t scratch the surface.
Saul, David, Solomon and Jehoash all reigned as kings in Israel for 40 years. Twice the Jews were held in captivity and their land left desolate, each for 40 years so they could humble themselves and remember their God. The prophet Elijah ate one meal that fed him for 40 Days. God gave the city Ninevah 40 Days to repent. Goliath threatened the Jews for 40 Days before David stood up to him. Under Jewish law, the maximum number of lashes a man could receive for a crime was 40. And even most of the measurements of Solomon’s Temple were some variant of the number 40.
According to Islam, the prophet Muhammad was 40 when he saw the angel Gabriel, he also prayed and fasted for 40 days in a cave, and had 40 followers to help him spread the religion. It is also said in Islam that a person gains intellectual maturity in their 40th year, that one who gossips or drinks wine will have their prayers rejected from heaven for 40 Days and nights, and that one who helps a blind man walk 40 steps automatically becomes worthy of heaven.
The official Muslim mourning period is also 40 Days. Similarly, many Russians and Christian Filipinos believe the soul/spirit/ghost to hang around the grave for 40 Days before moving on/ascending to heaven (as did Christ).
There’s an Arabic proverb that states: To understand a people, you must live among them for 40 Days. And the number 40 is highlighted as significant in the tale of Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves in the Book of One Thousand and One Nights.
But perhaps one of the most notable, obvious, widespread and current references to the number 40 representing a transitional period, or a period of trial, is that of pregnancy. Pregnancy, as proven by most women ever, is by and large a 40-week phenomenon.
But what about modern psychology and sociological science and stuff?
Maxwell Maltz, a famous plastic surgeon from the 60s, noted that amputees took an average of 21 days to adjust to the loss of a limb.
A team of more modern psychologists in London recently discovered that it took an average of 66 days for their test subjects to ingrain a new daily habit, such as jogging or eating a piece of fruit every day, into their subconscious behavioural routine. (Certain recent self-help programs have even been developed using the 66- or 67-day format because of this.)
But these two very different figures represent two very different things.
Adjusting to the loss of a limb is a survival-oriented transition. It’s a problem that forces the mind and body to reconnect in order to adapt. You could even call it a base instinct to pre-empt natural selection. Although the need for this adaptation nowadays isn’t necessarily life or death, it’s still necessary to living life; the need to be independent and take care of one’s self. That’s why it only takes an average of 3 weeks.
On the other end of this change spectrum, we have the process of forming new daily good habits that took an average of about 9 weeks, according to the recent London study. The problem with this study was that it was limited in several ways.
Firstly, the results were actually quite varied, with 66 days being only the average. (It taking anywhere between 18 and 254 days for the habits to become “automatic” in the participants.)
Secondly, there were less than a hundred participants in the study, only 82 of whom finished the study, only a further 62 of whom ended up fitting the model, and only 39 of whom showed a good fit. (That’s less than half)
But thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, while the habits chosen were all what we would call “good habits”, and the participants had some leeway to choose a “good habit” to appropriate of their own free will and volition, their motivations, drive or want were never assessed.
What does that mean?
That means that we don’t know how much they actually wanted to change in the first place. If you’ve ever participated in a medical study, and I sure have, every single participant I met, myself included, was there for one reason only. The money.
Yes, they were gaining a new good habit, and their bodies would have responded accordingly, reaffirming the positives, but how much did the participants even care in the first place? How much did they want this? Were they motivated by the genuine desire to change?
For most of them, I really doubt it.
The point I’m trying to make here is that one’s motivations are a huge factor, not only in success, but also, in the time it takes to reach success.
There’s a sliding scale between the 9 weeks it takes to automate behaviour for mere financial gain and better health to the 3 weeks it takes to automate behaviour needed to survive or live/get by. And bang right in the middle of those two figures is the 6 weeks (42 days) it takes to automate behaviour that is not only strongly desired but self-motivated. That’s why the very first step in the 40-Day Principle of Change is finding the want to change.
You can learn all the more about the 40-Day Principle of Change in my book, Transform YOU in 40 Days, which is available FREE on Amazon until the end of August. http://amzn.com/B0142434F2