Habits: How long does it actually take to change them?

time-273857_1920Habits. We all have them.

Some good, some bad. The good ones? Well, nothing wrong there. The bad ones? Hmmm…’nuff said about those the better, huh?

But you want to stop the bad habits. You want to change them into the good habits that you love and embrace like the welcome friends they are.

So, how long does it actually take to change a habit, or to create a new one?

Time for a quiz. To change a habit/create a new habit takes:

A. 7 days.
B. 21 days.
C. 30 days.
D. None of the above.

What’s your answer? Remember it. You’ll be given the correct answer soon.

If you ask someone how long it takes to change a habit, you’ll probably be told it takes about a month. This idea of a habit taking a month comes from a plastic surgeon, Dr. Maxwell Maltz, who discovered that his patients would take 21 days to adjust to their new bodily/facial changes.

Dr. Maltz also realised that it would take him about 21 days to change a personal habit. So he wrote about his discovery and experiences in a book titled “Psycho-Cybernetics”.

Does that mean it takes only 21 days to from a habit? Well, no. Dr. Maltz stated it takes a minimum of 21 days.

So that’s A, and B crossed off as the right answer for our quiz.

What about 30 days? After all we read lots about how to change your life in 30 days. The 30 day challenge. The 30- day this and that.

Phillipa Lally, while holding Medical Research Council PhD studentship, did a study of how long it takes to form a habit. 96 participants took part in the study.

What was the result? Well, it may shock you.

In the study Phillipa discovered it takes between 18 to 254 days to form a habit. So cross answer C in the quiz. The correct answer is D.

In fact, the average time for habit formation (according to Phillipa’s study) was 66 days.

Also, if you miss a day or two in creating a new habit. That’s okay, it’s not going to affect the development of the habit. Again, this flies against the myth that if you skip a day while forming a habit, it’s bad and you have to hit the “reset” button.

Easy habits (that is, those that don’t require much time or effort such as starting to eat a piece of fruit a day) take less time to develop than habits that require more work (such as exercising more).

With that said, how does one start on creating a new habit or replacing a bad one? Here are 4 steps:

  1. Make a decision. What is it you want? Stopping a bad habit or forming a new one? With any behavioural change, we first of all need to decide to change. Simple, right?
  2. Motivation. If you don’t have a strong wish or desire to start or change a habit, then nothing is going to happen. Things will stay the same as they always have. Keep reminding yourself as to why you are taking on or stopping a habit.
  3. Fill the void. In behavioural psychology there is a term used when discussing how to change behaviour: replacement behaviour. It means that to change an undesired behaviour we need to replace it with a desired behaviour. If we don’t find a suitable or effective alternate behaviour, then the negative one will not change. So find something that you can do to take place of the habit you want to transform or stop.
  4. Persistance. Keep doing the new habit. It is going to take work and focus. As Phillipa Lally says, it will take some time to reach the stage of “automaticity” (the level where the new habit becomes automatic to us).

So, now you know how to form new habits and how long it will actually take.

Go forth, extinguish and replace!

Oh,,,and don’t feel bad if you miss a couple of days. It’s all about consistency. Hang in there and keep going.

Soon there will be a new habit and a new you.



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