The 21-Day Incubation Period

Have you heard of the term “incubation period”? Medical definition aside, an incubation period refers to the period which an embryo develops within an egg, to the point the egg hatches.

Different types of eggs have different incubation periods. With the most common egg, the chicken egg, a 21-day incubation period (give or take a few days) is needed, assuming incubation conditions are met (right temperature, right humidity, and timely turning of egg). Crack a fertilized chicken egg before it completes its 21-day incubation, and you will be greeted with a gory mess as you destroy the only protection the embryo had from the world and unwittingly terminate its life.

Here’s an illustration of a developing chick embryo from day 1 to when it hatches:

21-Day Development of Chick Embyro

21-day development of a chick embryo


Developing chick embryo

Developing chick embryo


A chick and a mug

A baby chick, hatched from its shell. Hello! 🙂

Incubation Period at Work Everywhere

When you look out there in the world, the concept of the incubation period can be observed in many places, not just with eggs. For example

  • The germination process where a seed turns into a seedling is a 2-day to week-long process which cannot be rushed.
  • The development of a baby in a mother’s womb takes 38 weeks, and the mother will give birth when the child is ready to be born.
  • In pathology (study of diseases), an influenza virus takes about 2 days to incubate, before the person develops flu symptoms (meaning a person who catches the flu virus will only show flu symptoms after 2 days).
  • In baking, it takes about 30 minutes for the cake to cook–increasing the heat will not speed up this process, and will instead burn the cake.
  • An apple takes about 100 to 200 days to ripen. Pick it prematurely, and it’ll stop ripening.

In each of these cases, the incubation process is a necessary one, and can’t be rushed (not that anyone would want to catch the flu). Even if everything looks unchanged on the surface, there are changes happening underneath, and these changes are part and parcel of creating the final end result.

Likewise, when it comes to our goals, there are incubation periods too. Just because we take action today, doesn’t necessarily mean that we’ll see results instantly. There is much background work that needs to be done before we can reap the initial rewards of our labor.

Example: From 6-Figure Debt to $20,000/Month Revenue

One of my long-time coaching clients, M, will understand this well. He first signed up for my coaching in 2011, and has since returned for follow-up coaching last year, and again this year. In our years of working together, we’ve covered a wide breadth and depth of topics: from dating, to business strategy, to life direction, to discovering his passion, to personal productivity, to most recently, debt.

Of these topics, debt has been the most persistent one. For his debt isn’t a small one, but a 6-figure debt amounting to $200,000 USD: the result of past study loans, monthly over-expenditures, and overall lack of proper money management. His debt started in his early 20s and kept building up to his late-20s, and it was early this year when he sought my coaching on it.

Change = Not an Overnight Affair

Since M’s debt is so large, clearing it has no means been an overnight affair. There were many things that we had to work through first, from identifying over-expenses, to removing them, to addressing his limiting money beliefs, to getting his finances in order, to setting a financial plan with clear targets and milestones, all of which are processes as opposed to overnight changes.

So despite M’s best efforts, his debt issue seemed to remain unchanged. That he would constantly be reminded by his debt didn’t help either. For example, he had to hold back on his traveling goals despite being a travel lover as he didn’t have the cash to do so. He had to borrow money at times to pay his bills as his credit cards would be suspended from being overdrawn. He would get regular letters from banks, hounding for repayment. He would sometimes be late in paying his employees, something which he hates as reliability is one of his core values. He would even hold back on dating as he felt too insecure by his financial situation to think about dates. All these issues compounded together meant that M would sometimes feel imprisoned, demoralized, and very low in energy. At times, it felt as if he might remain in debt forever!

However, I reminded M that since his debt was the result of compounded issues from the past (bad money management, self-limiting money beliefs which traced back to as far as childhood, lack of a defined vision for his business, lack of a defined self, etc.), we shouldn’t expect it to disappear overnight either. Rather, it was more important that we address the roots of his debt and remove his day-to-day blocks, because the faster we did these, the sooner his debt situation would reverse.

M agreed, and we would diligently hack away the roots of his problem, one after another.

And then… From Financial Outflow to Inflow

Then, the tides turned.

Firstly, he began to experience spurts of motivation after each session that would last 2–3 days each time. During these spurts, M would accomplish many to-dos–equivalent to what he normally accomplishes over 2 weeks. I told M that these spurts indicate the abundant energy that has always been in him (just that they were blocked due to his worries), and are the start of more to come.

True enough, M began to experience these motivation spurts out of the blue, even when we haven’t had a coaching session.

Then, M began to take action on the action steps we had defined for his debt resolution plan. These actions were linked to the growth of his business. The results were astounding.

Because we had earlier cleared his mental blocks surrounding money and himself, and because M had earlier defined a clear, aligned vision for his business and life, M was able to laser-focus his energy into growing his business. In a matter of weeks, he began to clinch many new business deals. While his business revenue used to be $4,000 USD / month, it has since increased to $20,000 USD today — a 5-fold increase! He continues to clinch new deals today, some of which are recurring arrangements, which means recurring guaranteed income.

M has been clearing a good chunk of his debt for the past few months, and at this rate, he’ll be clearing the first half of his debt by the end of this year, with the second half to be cleared next year. With so many new deals now, M’s problem has evolved into a new one–one where he has insufficient manpower, and hence has to put potential deals on hold until he clears the bottleneck! But of course, this is a luxury “problem” and is easily fixable (hire new staff; increase workplace productivity). It’s a huge welcome from what he was struggling with before!

Needless to say, M is extremely pleased. He knows that as long as he continues what he’s doing, he’ll soon be debt-free and eventually, financially free!

What Can We Learn?

Now, what have you observed from M’s story? Notice that despite him working on his debt issue early on, he didn’t see results right away. Instead, he only did so only after several months as he had to work on the roots of his problem. Yet, when the results came in, they came in… fast.

Here, the time lag between when he started taking action to when he saw visible results is the incubation period. Further to that, he has actually been building his business network and developing his skills in his field for a good 4 years ago, which means that his incubation period (with regards to his $20,000/month business revenue today) actually started way earlier, at about 5 years ago!

Similarly, when it comes to our goals, there may be times when we are continuously taking action without seeing results. However, when that happens, it doesn’t mean that what we’re doing isn’t working. It may simply mean that we are going through the incubation period. During this period, actions don’t instantly lead to visible results. Rather, our actions build up an invisible impact that’ll bloom when everything is in place.

Incubation Period: Are You Going Through One Now?

The key lesson I want you to learn is that for whatever goal you are pursuing now, there is always a delicate development phase at the start. This delicate phase is the incubation period, when your goal slowly develops and takes form and shape… before showing its first results. While it may seem like nothing is happening during this period, something is in fact happening… just not visible to the human eye. Our human eye.

Now, while the incubation period for a chicken egg is 21 days,  this period varies for our goals, depending on what they are:

  • With a blogging goal, this period can be a few days to weeks as you create your blogging account, apply a stock template, and write your first post. With an A-list blogging goal, this period is easily years as you build your expertise in your subject matter, build quality content, drive traffic, build trust among your audience, build loyalty among your readers, and more.
  • With a career switch goal, this period can be 3 months to even a year as you do industry research, connect with headhunters, look for job vacancies, interview for positions, and wait for the right job offer.
  • With a healthy eating goal, this period can be months (or even years), especially if you’re an emotional eater, as you cultivate the habit of eating healthy food, create a positive environment that supports healthy eating, and remove your emotional eating roots.
  • With a quit-smoking goal, this period can be weeks going into months if you’re a smoking addict, as you work through your addiction roots, identify your relapse patterns, and work through those roots inside-out.
  • With a goal to turn your passion into your career, this period can be months, typically years, as you spend 10,000 hours to develop your talent, create your plan, take action, and refine your plan along the way.
  • With a goal to build your passive income business, this period is most definitely years (and this is coming from myself who has built a passive-income business from scratch, via PE), because you have to first build the foundations of your business, build your audience base, create quality products and services, before even thinking about earning passive income!
Egg incubator

Egg incubation in process. What goal(s) are you incubating at the moment?

Generally, the more audacious your goal (i.e. to build a million-pageview blog vs. to build a blog; to achieve 15% body fat vs. to lose a little weight; to earn $100,000 a year vs. to earn a little more money), the longer your incubation period for the goal, since you’d need more time and effort to build the foundations for a larger goal.

So what do you do if you’re currently incubating? Do you get pissed off at the lack of visible results? Do you flap your hands like a mad person and run amok out of frustration? No and no!!!! All these are pointless as they’ll only frustrate you (further) and distract you from your main goal. What you want to do is to continue with what you’ve been doing (because that’s going to lead you to your end goal) and focus on your vision, because that’s what truly inspires you. Here are some tips that’ll help you:

  1. Set milestones to evaluate your progress. In Module 4 of Anti-Procrastination Program, I share the importance of setting milestones as they are like little signposts that guide you to your final goal. Milestones let you know if you’re heading in the right direction.

    Examples of baby milestones for a blogging goal can be, (1) Achieve 10 visitors/day, (2) Achieve 50 visitors/day, (3) Achieve 100 visitors/day. The equivalent for a healthy eating goal can be, (1) Eat healthily for at least 1 meal a day, (2) Eat at least 1 fruit/vegetable each day.

    With these milestones set, focus on achieving them (as opposed to your distant end goal). If you are hitting them, that means you’re on the right track, even if you haven’t reached your end goal yet! Set more milestones and keep moving forward; you’re on the right path!

  2. Surround yourself with success models. Who are the people who’ve succeeded in your goal? Keep them close to you and under your radar, such as in your social media feed, your newsletter subscriptions, your contact list, your meet-up groups, etc. This way, you get the maximum positive reinforcement for your goal, which will help you in your path to success. The incubation period is a delicate period, so don’t allow anything negative to come close to you during this time (or ever, really).

  3. Look out for success easter eggs. The universe is funny because it always leaves little clues to let us know when we’re doing things right. With an egg incubation, candling helps you to tell if any embryo has developed. When you bake a cake, you can see the mixture “rise” through the oven door; the pleasant whiff of the cake can be smelled before the baking is completed too.

    So say you’re starting a coaching business. A possible sign can be friends telling you how your advice has helped them and changed their outlook, even when you weren’t formally coaching them. Another possible sign can be your friends recommending others to sign up for your service, even though you didn’t ask them to!

    For your goal, what are possible signs of success? Look out for them! They are the universe’s way of nodding at you and telling you, “Yes, you’re doing great. Keep up the great work!!!”

  4. Work hard. The incubation period doesn’t end with the natural passing of time. Rather, you’ve to do the due work on your goal, before you’ll see your first signs of success. For example with the chicken egg, it has to be at the temperature of 100 °F / 38 °C, at the humidity of 85-87 °F / 29-31 °C, and turned daily so that the embryo doesn’t stick to the membrane. Not only that, these conditions change after the 18th day as the embryo reaches the end of its incubation. If these conditions aren’t met to the tee, the egg will simply cool and stop incubating — and only continue incubating when the conditions are met again. 

    On top of whatever you’ve planned for your goal, what is 1 extra thing you can do this day/week? How can you make it happen?

  5. Be patient. As the saying goes, “Good things come to those who wait.” Put in your best effort, but be patient as well. As long as you put in your due work, results will come soon enough.
  6. Most importantly, enjoy the process. At the end of the day, you’re not in a race. You’re in a journey of self-betterment, and your goals are but the mediums that help you to achieve a better life. Think about why you want to pursue this goal to begin with, and enjoy the process of pursuit by upholding this message every single second of the day. Before you know it, you’ll be done incubating and you’ll be ready to take flight. 🙂

Here’s an article to get through the incubation period: How to Finish What You Start: 10 Important Tips

Are you going through an incubation period for a goal now? How has it been, and which of the tips above can you apply?

Read: The Power of Little Changes

Images: Chick embryo development, Developing chick embryo, Baby chick, Egg incubator