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How Long It Really Takes to Form a New Habit

How Long It Really Takes to Form a New Habit

We’ve all heard the oft-repeated myth that it takes 21 days to form a habit. But it’s just that—a myth, started when plastic surgeon Maxwell Maltz first noticed that it took his patients a minimum of about 21 days to get used to a new feature—or as he wrote in his book Psycho-Cybernetics, “These, and many other commonly observed phenomena tend to show that it requires a minimum of about 21 days for an old mental image to dissolve and a new one to jell.”

As his observation got repeated, we dropped some of the details (like “minimum”) and concluded that it takes exactly 21 days to form a new habit or break an old one.

So how long does it really take to eat healthier, stop smoking, or start working out regularly? In a study published in the european Journal of Social Psychology, 96 volunteers chose an eating, drinking, or activity behavior to do daily in the same context for 12 weeks.

The time it took to make that behavior a habit? 66 days on average. But it ranged across participants from 18 to 254 days—and the study’s researcher stressed that context is important, telling University College London, “To create a habit you need to repeat the behaviour in the same situation. It is important that something about the setting where you perform the behaviour is consistent so that it can cue the behaviour. If you choose a context cue, for example after lunch, we don’t think that it matters if you eat lunch at different times in the day.”

And even gaining a new good habit doesn’t get rid of the bad one, she says. “New habits do not stop the old habits from existing; they just have to become stronger influences on behaviour.”

 

Have you ever broken a habit or formed a new one? How long did it take you?

 

Read more: Diet & Nutrition, Fitness, Fun, Health, Life, Mental Wellness

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Diana Vilibert

Diana Vilibert is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn. You can be blog-friends with her at dianavilibert.com, or tweet her at @dianavilibert.

89 comments

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9:57AM PDT on Jul 12, 2014

Depends on the chemicals they put in to make an addiction work.

12:44AM PDT on Jul 5, 2014

I've tried to quit smoking a hundred times. I guess I haven't been doing it right. I feel like part of me is missing!

8:19PM PDT on May 3, 2014

Thank you!

10:28AM PDT on May 3, 2014

Thank you.

8:57PM PDT on May 2, 2014

noted

8:14PM PDT on May 2, 2014

thank you

8:44PM PDT on May 1, 2014

Thank you

4:01AM PDT on May 1, 2014

Thanks.

8:08AM PDT on Apr 24, 2014

I think understanding how habits form are the key to breaking them so thank you.

4:47AM PDT on Apr 24, 2014

Thanks

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