Habits are easy to form and just as easy to break. I did a little research to find out how many days exactly does it take to create a habit. We have all probably heard that it takes somewhere around 21 days to develop a new habit. Unfortunately, that isn’t necessarily the case. There is no exact number, and it depends on the person, the habit, and the circumstances.
How Many Day to Form a Habit According to Science?
According to Phillippa Lally is a health psychology researcher at University College London, reprinted by James Clear, How Long Does it Take to Form a New Habit? (Backed By Science). “In this study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, Lally and her research team decided to figure out just how long it takes to form a habit. The study examined the habits of 96 people over a 12-week period. Each person chose one new habit for the 12 weeks and reported each day on whether or not they did the behavior and how automatic the behavior felt.
Some people chose simple habits like “drinking a bottle of water with lunch.” Others chose more difficult tasks like “running for 15 minutes before dinner.” At the end of the 12 weeks, the researchers analyzed the data to determine how long it took each person to go from starting a new behavior to automatically doing it.
The answer, on average, it takes more than two months before a new behavior becomes automatic — 66 days to be exact. And how long it takes a new habit to form can vary widely depending on the behavior, the person, and the circumstances. In Lally’s study, it took anywhere from 18 days to 254 days for people to form a new habit.”
The 21 Day Myth
So depending on your personality, the change or habit and your circumstance it may take a little longer than to form. I wish I would have known about the 21 day myth years ago. In the past, I have beat myself up for not keeping going on a new “habit” that I continued for 21 days. For instance, had known it might take longer than 21 days to form a new habit. I may have kept practicing a new habit, regardless of the mistakes I made along the way. Furthermore, I would have been more encouraged to fight through. In this article, James Clear compares the 21-day myth to the game of telephone. Someone started this game of “telephone” years ago. You can’t pick up a self-development book that doesn’t refer to this 21-days myth.
Going forward, I know I will, and I hope you stop don’t fall trap to this 21 day myth. If your ready to change and start new habits, just start. Don’t worry how many days it will take to form a new habit or change a behavior. Just do your best to practice it daily. Realize you’re not perfect, and you’re going to have days or maybe even weeks where you won’t have time to practice it. You’re going to feel like you’ve taken steps backward. Just know this is completely normal and part of the process of change.
Tips to Successfully Form a Habit
- KISS, Keep it Super Simple. Focus on one new habit. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Forming a new habit takes time, discipline and patience. If you try changing too many things at one time your setting yourself up for failure.
- Plan for obstacles. If you have a plan for the challenges that you may face along the way, you’ll be more likely to overcome these roadblocks. For example, if your goal is to walk for 30 minutes a day and it’s raining outside. Have a backup plan, line up a gym or fitness center that allows walk in’s. Don’t let the weather be an excuse why you can’t practice your new habit.
- Anchor your new habit to an old one. For instance, after you get home from work, instead of putting on your jeans like you do every day, put on your workout clothes and go for a walk. Don’t think about it just do it.
- Start small. Don’t commit to walking 3 miles every day when you haven’t been walking 1 mile a day. Start off with a 1/2 mile or 15 minutes. Increase weekly, but increase gradually get to your 3-mile goal.
- Reward yourself. Set milestones for yourself to accomplish and when you meet them, reward yourself with something of your choosing. Celebrate your small victories and have fun along the way.
Finally, if the habit is really important to you, you’ll find a way to succeed. Be prepared for obstacles, that way they won’t be so disappointing when you are faced with them. Go slow and don’t expect your behavior to change overnight. If you keep these things in mind, reaching your goal will be more fun and attainable. If you need some additional encouragement, here are a few books to help you make your habit stick.
Habit Breaking and Making Books
- The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, by Charles Duhigg
- Breaking The Habit of Being Yourself: How to Lose Your Mind and Create a New One, by Dr. Joe Dispenza
- The Little Book of Big Change: The No-Willpower Approach to Breaking Any Habit, by Amy Johnson Ph.D. and Mark Howard PhD