How Long Does it Really Take to Form a Habit

forming habits

What is a habit?

A habit is a behaviour that is automatically carried out in response to a certain situation, time or que. Habits can range from very small behaviours such as always turning the light of when you leave the room, to bigger things such as going for a 15 minute run every day before dinner. There are also bad and good habits. For example a bad habit could be biting your nails, or swearing. A good habit could be drinking a bottle of water with every meal, or reading a book before bed. 

Good or bad, habits make up approximately 40% of all of our behaviours. Whilst we may assume that we consciously choose to do everything that we do, the truth is that nearly half of our days are made up of automatic responses. With so much of our lives being determined by our habits, it makes it extremely important to form good ones. 

If you are interested in learning more, you can read our blog ‘The Power of Forming Positive Habits on Our Wellbeing’ here. 

Forming habits

The automatic nature of habits can be used to our advantage. Instead of having to force yourself to go for a run, read a book, or eat healthy, turning these desirable behaviours into habits almost makes them one less thing to worry about. If you unconsciously carry out positive habits, they will become part of your everyday just like brushing your teeth or getting dressed. This is why so many people ask ‘how long does it really take to form a habit?’. This gives people a goal to strive towards, “I can turn my life around in just 3 weeks!”. Unfortunately, forming habits isn’t that quick or that simple for most of us…

How to form a habit

Before you can reap the benefits of chores, exercise and healthy eating running on autopilot, forming habits do require some initial discipline, mainly repetition. Pick the positive habit you would like to implement into your everyday life, start small and something you think will be achievable. There is no point promising yourself you will run 10 miles every single day if you don’t already run. The likelihood is it won’t be easy, you will feel discouraged and give up. 

Next, make it daily. Pick a positive habit that can be done everyday as this will make it easier and quicker to form it into said habit. Next, commit to 30. Giving yourself a goal will make it seem more achievable with an end date in mind. The chances are, once you get to the 30 days you will want to keep going! Other tips that can help you form a habit are getting a buddy to do it with and hold you accountable. Another tip would be forming a trigger so you get promoted to do your habit, setting an alarm would be an obvious one. 

How long does it really take to form a habit?

This is a tricky one, and unfortunately not a one size fits all answer. Since the 1960’s there has been a lingering myth that it takes 21 days to form a new habit or change an old one. This myth originated from a best selling book by Maxwell Maltz called ‘Psycho-Cybernetics’. He based his theory on how long it took new amputees to get used to having a missing limb and how long it took someone with a new nose job to adjust to how they looked. However, in Maltz’s book he claimed it actually took a “MINIMUM of 21 days to form a new habit”. This theory spread so far and wide that the ‘minimum’ part of the statement was dropped and it was shortened to just 21 days.

The reality is unfortunately it takes much longer for most of us. A 2009 study by Phillippa Lally found that it takes on average 66 days to form a new habit that is fully ingrained in our routine. If your habit is much harder work though, this can take as long as 254 days! 

The important thing to remember is that it doesn’t matter if you slip up and miss a few days, it is much better to pick up where you left off instead of throwing in the towel. Forming a positive habit can improve your mental, emotional and physical wellbeing and is definitely worth the effort you put in.