How Long Does It Take To Form A New Habit? 

A Habit is nothing but a repeated behavior of a human being at a certain thing or his reaction to the internal or external stimuli. Though it kicks-off consciously initially, later it becomes sub-conscious due to the fixed previous mental loop through the repeated routine task.

But how many days does it take to form a new habit is a debatable topic to many!

It is said that “new habits are tough to form & old habits die hard” due to the imprinted behavioral pattern of the human brain.

It was Doctor Maxwell Maltz – a plastic surgeon of 1950s, who said to have found some strange pattern of 21 days in most of his patients those got operated their nose, amputated legs, and other body parts to adjust/sense their newly formed body parts by the doctor.

Then the doctor has come to a conclusion saying on an average it might take 21 days for a human being to sense or adapt to a new behavioral change.

He also explained the same in his book ‘Psycho-Cybernetics‘ where he wrote all his experiences of human mental adaptation, in turn, their behavior, and the book was one of the best-selling ones those days.

From then, all the popular contemporary self-help writers started writing 21 days as a magic number for behavioral change and maximum time for a human being to form a new habit.

Since many popular self-help books said it, people started believing that in 21 days they can do anything as the number looked short and their favorite writer said it.

But most ppl those tried acquiring new habits in 21 days miserably failed to acquire any new habit in the given time. And these started countering the theory as a myth and practically not possible, they also referred to Mr. Maltz book saying that he only assumed it but didn’t state it!

Now the question is…If 21 days period of acquiring a new habit is a myth? Then, what could be the magic/minimum time for a human being to adapt or acquire a new habit, is a million dollar question!

Actual Time Taken To Form A New Human Habit.

According to one theory by Prof Philippe Lally of University College London who examined, around 100 people for a period of 12 weeks says, it takes 2 months [i.e. 66 days] to form a new habit for an average human being to adapt an average habit.

As it again depends on what kind of habit one tries to imbibe, how badly one tries it, decides the time taken to adapt it and it can vary from person to person.

For E.g. The time taken to adapt

“Drinking a bottle of water with lunch” differs to that of

“Running for 15 minutes before dinner.”

So, he came to the conclusion that it takes anywhere between 18 – 254 days for a human being to acquire a new habit or train ones mental and behavioral clock.

Therefore acquiring a new habit depends on several factors…

Such as

  1. How badly one tries a new habit?
  2. How often he tries it?
  3. How long he sticks to it?
  4. How important is that habit in his? And
  5. How much fun or happiness he gets doing it?
  6. How many times he repeats it in a time period of 1 – 5 yrs time decides his habit formation pattern.

So, it’s not actually the number it’s the focus and determination and situation you are in actually decides your mental behavior and your habits.

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Digging deep into this topic, we’ll actually understand forming certain new habit (good or bad) is a automatic behaviour that depends on our parents, friends, influencers such as how we were raised, with whom we were raised, place we live in, people we socialize, our language, culture, society our needs, desires, ambitions and several other factors.

Our efficiency, lack of awareness, unintentionality, and uncontrollability also decide our habits.

Charles Duhigg, a Psychologist divides the habit formation into three stages

  1. The cue – the first trigger of habitual behavior
  2. The behavior – mind associated with the new habit loop
  3. The reward – the goal and the positive feeling of the act

Though the habit is initially triggered by a goal, over time it becomes automatic.

How To Form A New Habit?

Today there are varieties of tools designed to train and analyze the habit formation.

For E.g. Certain Video games give ‘gamified’ strategies similar to real life tasks with reward points to train human spontaneity and lateral thinking that helps humans face situations in real life too.

Whereas, e-commerce sites and apps use customers to search & purchase data to analyze their buying behavior.

Few psychologists argue that habit formation is a chain process where one good habit influences the other.

For E.g. If you are conscious about your body beauty, you’ll exercise regularly and avoid the intake of certain foods and be cautious about certain daily habits.

Similarly, the formation of a habit is like a business, it depends on how carefully one uses his time and credit cards decide their profits and productivity.

Certain survey’s state that, a highly self-motivated person actually develops more & more good habits in him and become an influential figure in the society due to his success and conduct and others slowly follow and idolize these successful people as their role models in the formation of habits.

There are several books on this topic such as ‘The 7 habits of highly successful people by Stephen R. Covey’, ‘The 8th habit’ by the same writer.

As already discussed, habits are more of goal oriented.

It depends from person to person on what sort of goal one sets, is that habit beneficial to him or doing damage to him?

A conscious good habit pushes to have one better, whereas the bad one opposes this action. So it is your goals that are going to direct your habits, in turn, your life.

Bad habits like procrastination, overspending can be fixed if you recognize them doing bad to you.

But certain habits like nail biting, stammering, sniffling, fidgeting are the symptoms of an emotional state of anxiety, insecurity, inferiority, tension and these are biologically formed ones in the early stage of life. Hence they remain long as it is hard to correct them.

And certain bad habits are very tough to correct such as addiction, obsession, Vice, Sin, habitus, etc.

A habit correction/elimination becomes more difficult with growing age because repeating reinforcing actions becomes cumulative over the lifespan. Therefore, recognizing and eliminating bad habits as soon as possible is highly advised.

A bad habit is like a cancerous cell; therefore the best time to correct a bad habit is to do it immediately before it becomes established. So, bad habits are best prevented from developing in childhood.

There are few tips & techniques too for correcting the established bad habits. One of the best among them is to go for a rehabilitate between 21 and 28 days and try as hard as possible by not to give in to the habit then rewarding yourself at the end of it.

Then again try to go a week, if the habit remains still? Please repeat the process. This method is said to have proven a high success rate.

End of the day it is your ‘Intention’ and ‘will power’ that plays a key role in forming and alternating your habits but not the time or other things that are really going to motivate you.

  • E. Hemachandra Prasad

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