It takes on average 66 days for people to form a habit. While 66 days is the average, it could take anywhere from 18 to 254 days (8 months) to change a behaviour. This huge range is because each person, as well as the type of habit you pick, can be different.
These numbers come from Lally’s study of 96 people trying to develop a new self-chosen physical activity or dietary behaviour 1.
You might be thinking.. but I heard it took only 21 days to develop a habit?
The 21 Days Myth
Dr. Maxwell Maltz, a plastic surgeon, noticed that it took his patients around 21 days to get use to their new faces after surgery or missing limbs after an amputation. Dr Marltz wrote about it in his book ‘Psycho-Cybernetics’ and since then, many people have taken liberty with his observation and mis-attributed it to habit formation.
Unfortunately, developing a habit isn’t that quick. And having the wrong expectations can make you frustrated with your progress. It is better to expect it to take anywhere from 10 weeks to 8 months to change a behaviour.
This might seem like a long time, but the benefits of having a well formed habit can last a lifetime.
Why can it take so long to develop a habit?
There are many factors that come into play when it comes to how fast or slow you build your habits.
Lack of Awareness
One important thing is to be aware of your progress. That’s why you should track your habits. It allows you to hold yourself accountable and see exactly where you need improving. Relying on your memory to remember how often you did something is not reliable and we often lie to ourself. This is why tracking your progress with an app like DoneFlow is critical to your success in building a habit fast.
Your Environment is Not Supportive
How supportive is your environment for the behaviour you want?
Let’s say you are trying to develop a morning meditation habit. But your neighbor is always blasting Nicki Minaj songs. Then it is much easier for you to skip or shorten your meditation sessions.
Similarly, if you’re trying to develop an exercise routine, but your gym is 1 hour away compared to it being in the same apartment building.
How you set up your environment to align with your new behaviour is the number 1 thing to determine how long it will take to form a habit.
When you’re trying to eat healthier, do you think to yourself “I eat healthy food” or “I am a healthy person”? The latter is more powerful because it is attached to your identity. It is who you are. While the former is something you do.
How much you identify with a particular behavior has an impact on how fast you develop the new habit.
Lack of Motivation
Motivation is needed at the initial stages of forming a new behaviour. But the good thing is after it has become a habit then motivation isn’t needed anymore.
Think of motivation as the spark that starts the fire and the habit is the fuel that keeps the fire burning.
The greater your motivation the higher chance you will be able to develop the habit.
The Behavior is Complex
How complicated the behaviour you pick is will impact how long it will take to become a habit. Drinking a glass of water after breakfast is much simpler and requires less effort than going to the gym for an hour.
Lack of Self-control
Everyone is different. That is why your own personality has an affect on how long it can take. Specifically your self-control as it helps keep you consistent more regularly, which in turn leads to the behaviour change faster.
How do I know if I have formed a habit?
A habit is a behavior that is done automatically without awareness or control. The more automatic it feels the stronger the habit is.
A strong habit might be you reaching for the seatbelt as soon as you get into the car, or checking Facebook as soon as you unlock your phone. This can also include bad habits such as biting your nails when you’re stressed. These happen almost subconsciously.
While more complex habits such as going to the gym might not operate entirely subconsciously, they do feel easier over time.
Here is an easy way to determine how much of your behaviour is a habit. These are the same questions habit researchers use to measure the strength of habit.
(Behavior X) is something …
- … I do frequently.
- … I do automatically.
- … I do without having to consciously remember.
- … that makes me feel weird if I do not do it.
- … I do without thinking.
- … would require effort not to do it.
- … that belongs to my (daily, weekly, monthly) routine.
- … I start doing before I realize I’m doing it.
- … I would find hard not to do.
- … I have no need to think about doing.
- … that’s typically ‘me’.
- … I have been doing for a long time.
This is also known as “The Self-Report Habit Index”2 and each statement is meant to be answered with a number between 0 (disagree) to 7 (agree). The more you agree with these statements the stronger your habit is.
What’s your next step?
Don’t worry about focusing on how long it takes to form a habit. The important thing is that you are taking action every day and moving in the right direction. Keep yourself accountable and eventually your new behaviour will become a part of your identity. And one of the best ways to do this is to install the DoneFlow app now.
Footnote [ + ]
|1.||↑||Lally, P., van Jaarsveld, C. H. M., Potts, H. W. W., & Wardle, J. (2010). How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world.|
|2.||↑||Verplanken, Bas & Orbell, Sheina. (2003). Reflections on Past Behavior: A Self‐Report Index of Habit Strength. Journal of Applied Social Psychology|