How Long Does it Take to Really Form a Habit?

The answer may surprise you.

May 23, 2024


Self Healing
How Long Does it Take to Really Form a Habit? | The answer may surprise you.

People set goals all the time. The plans can range from  exercising three times a week to getting more sleep and everything in-between.

Starting a new routine is daunting at first, reports Scientific American, but when it becomes a regular routine, it will just come naturally. But how long does it take for a goal to becoming a habit?

Myth busting
There is a popular idea circulating that it takes 21 days – just three weeks – to form a habit. While this sounds very appealing, how many people are still keeping their New Year’s resolutions on January 21? And that’s when people are the most motivated to achieve their goals.

The origin of the 21-day idea didn’t actually have anything to do with forming habits. It came from a 1960s self-help book by plastic-surgeon Maxwell Maltz who wrote that it took around 21 days for people to adjust to their new appearance after their surgery.

This 21-day figure soon began to be used as the benchmark for forming any habit. It took more than 50 years for this to be proved false. A 2009 study found that it could take from 18 to 254 days for an action to become automatic, with the average being 66 days. Consistent repetition is the key to something becoming a habit.

Simple habits take less time
There is no magic number when it comes to habits but there is a correlation between the complexity of your goal and the time it takes to become a habit, reported CNN. Something like handwashing can become habitual in one to two weeks but going to the gym which takes planning and has multiple steps will take a much longer time.

It might be simpler to break down a goal to exercise more into smaller, more obtainable pieces like doing a few squats a few times a day and then adding more exercises later. This will help you form the habit in a much shorter time frame.

Set yourself up for success
undefined setting doesn’t depend on how much willpower you have; it depends on setting yourself up for success. You can do that by creating a habit-friendly environment that can help cue your behavior. Setting your morning alarm to play “Physical” can cue you to get your running shoes on and hit the road. Think through what you want to accomplish and then plan cues that work for you.

Your brain actually likes habits, according to Healthline,  because they are efficient and when actions become automatic, it frees up mental resources to do other tasks. So when you automatically put on your seatbelt when entering your car, you can concentrate on the task of driving.

With enough pre-planning, repetition, and motivation, anyone can form a new habit. Just be patient and your goals will soon become a way of life.

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Bonnie has dedicated her life to promoting social justice. She loves to write about empowering women, helping children, educational innovations, and advocating for the environment & sustainability.