How Long Does it take To Form New Habits?
Bringing new habits in our daily life, it is kinds of a tricky process, if you asked how long it takes to form a new habit, most of the people will quickly respond “21 days.” However, according to a 2009 study, which printed in the European Journal of Social Psychology, it takes 18 to 254 days for a person to become habitual of new behavior.
The study also accepts that, an average person, can take 66 days to bring a new habit in our daily life.
What is the logic behind the 21 days?
In the 1950s, Maxwell Maltz (American cosmetic surgeon) started noticing a strange pattern among his patients.
When he would perform an operation (Facial operation) on their patients, Dr. Maltz got that it would take around 21 days to get used to seeing their new face. He also not noticed those patients who had an arm or leg amputated, they would sense a phantom limb for about 21 days before adjusting a new situation.
Later, he did experiments on himself to change behavior, he found that it took himself around 21 days to form a new habit. He wrote these experiences “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.”
In 1960, Dr. Maxwell Maltz launched a book called “Psycho-Cybernetics,” in this book he has written his thoughts on behavior changes. The book went viral all across the country and become popular – till now over 30 million copies have been sold – this situational observation has become accepted as fact.
There are a lot of motivators and as more people like Zig Ziglar, Brian Tracy, Tony Robbins, and others recited Maltz’s story. But people forgot that he said “it takes a minimum of about 21 days” shortened it to, “It takes 21days to form a new habit.”
And that’s how people began the common myth everywhere that it takes “21 days” to become automatic. It’s remarkable how often these timelines are quoted as statistical facts. It could be quite a dangerous lesson —- if the majority of people say something more often time, then every single one starts to believe it.
It makes sense why the “21 days.” become popular among the people. It’s easy to keep in mind the time frame and short enough to be inspiring, but most important long enough to be believable. In fact, who wouldn’t like to replace bad behavior with a good one after 21 days?
But, the reality is that Maxwell has written the whole book according to observation: what was going on around him and how he experienced the experiment himself. There isn’t any claim on it. In addition, he ensured to say that this was the min amount of time needed to adopt a new habit.
The psychology of forming a habit
As per a 2012 study, published the British Journal of General Practice — you can find on NCBI, “habits are defined as actions that are triggered automatically in response to contextual cues that have been associated with their performance.” Let’s take an example to understand this statement–when you hop on the car, you intuitively put on the seat belt. You don’t think at all about doing it. have you asked the question why?
The reason because your brain likes habits because they are efficient. When you automate common actions, you realize mental resources for other activities.
Why it can be hard to break a habit
Most often question ask why don’t we throw our bad habits in the trash even if I know something’s bad for us? A lot of people want to quit smoking, Drugs, and alcohol (a bad habit) but they don’t.
For this research, NIH funded scientists have been looking for the question. According to Dr. Russell Poldrack (a neurobiologist at the University of Texas at Austin) “Pleasure-based habit so much harder to break. Enjoyable behaviors can prompt your brain to release chemical call dopamine.”
Dopamine is a very crucial chemical massager in the brain that strengthens the behavior and creates the craving to do it again. This is why most people crave drugs even they know in the end it will be harmful.
How long does it really take to build a new habit?
In 2009, published an article on European of Social Psychology, psychologists Phillippa Lally, H. M. Van Jaarsveld, Henry … Potts and jane Wardle (University College London, London, UK) made a research on 96 volunteers (30 men, 66 women) for 12 weeks, each person chose different behavior like 31 to choose a drinking behavior, 34 an exercise behavior, 4 mediation, and 27 choose eating behavior as per the article.
The research acknowledged that, on average it takes more than 9 weeks before a new habit becomes automatic – 66 days to be exact. However, it ultimately depends on a lot of things like the habit we chose, a person, and the circumstances. According to DR. Lally, the time it took anywhere from 18 days to 254 days to become habitual of a new habit – not 21 days.
The most interesting thing, the study also found out, “Missing one opportunity to perform the behavior didn’t materially affect the habit formation process.” In another world, no matter if you mess up from time to time. Becoming habitual of new behavior is not all or nothing.
The Bottom line
There isn’t any right or wrong timeline. The only timeline that value is the one that works best for you. Besides, if you are making a commitment to bring changes in your life. keep doing that without focusing time of period.