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Last Updated on March 20, 2018

Science Tells You How Long It Takes to Break a Habit

Science Tells You How Long It Takes to Break a Habit

Habits arise through a process of triggering, actions, and rewards.[1] A circumstance triggers an action. When you get a reward from the action, you continue to do that.

If you aren’t intentional about actions and rewards, you’ll develop bad habits. These lead to self-sabotage, failure, and poor health. On the other hand, good habits enable health, happiness, and dream-fulfillment.

So how long does it take to break a habit? Some say 21 days, some say approximately a month. What is the real answer?

How long it takes to break a habit

There’s no magic number of repetitions that’ll get you to internalize the habits you want. Researchers have proposed several different ways of understanding habit formation.

The 21-day rule (or myth)

One of the earliest and most popular pieces of literature on the subject is Psycho-Cybernetics (1960) by Maxwell Maltz. Dr. Maltz who was a plastic surgeon wanted to understand how people viewed themselves. In particular, he was curious about how long it took for patients to get used to changes he made during surgery.

Based on observing his patients and reflecting on his own habits, he determined that it took at least 21 days for people to adjust. He used this information as the basis for many “prescriptions” in his self-help oriented Psycho-Cybernetics.[2]

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Since then, self-help gurus have latched onto the idea of taking 21-days to change habits. People began to forget that he said ‘a minimum of about 21 days’ instead of ‘it takes 21 days to form a new habit.’

Give yourself a month?

Another popular belief in self-help culture states that habits take 28 to 30 days to form.

One proponent of this rule, Jon Rhodes, suggests:[3]

“You must live consciously for 4 weeks, deliberately focusing on the changes that you wish to make. After the 4 weeks are up, only a little effort should be needed to sustain it.”

This was a generally agreed-upon figure, but the 21-day rule popularized by readers of Maltz was more appealing to many people because it was easy to understand, and it was faster than the general 28-30 rule.

If you want to know more about the myths of how long it takes to break a habit, check out this video:

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The time-frame for changing habits varies?

While the 21 and 28-day rules appeal to our desire to change quickly, a 2009 study from University College London suggests that the window for change can be much wider. The research, published in The European Journal of Social Psychology, followed habit-formation in 96 people over a 12-week period.

The UCL study looked at automaticity, which is how quickly people engaged in the actions they wanted to turn into habits. Researchers explained:[4]

As behaviours are repeated in consistent settings they then begin to proceed more efficiently and with less thought as control of the behaviour transfers to cues in the environment that activate an automatic response: a habit.

The amount of time that it took for actions to become habits varied. Participants anywhere between 18 and 254 days to form a habit. The average number of days needed to achieve automaticity was 76 days.

Make habits to break habits

Understanding the connection between forming new habits and getting rid of old ones makes the process easier.

Dr. Elliot Berkman, Director, Social and Affective Neuroscience Laboratory, Department of Psychology, University of Oregon, states:[5]

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“It’s easier to start doing something new than to stop doing something habitual without a replacement behavior.”

Quitting something cold-turkey is tough because you’ve wired yourself to want to do it. For example, quitting smoking is challenging beyond a physical nicotine addiction. The ritual of how a person prepares to smoke is another aspect that makes it hard to quit. In order to do away with this bad habit, the person needs to find something to fill the void left by the smoking ritual. The same goes for quitting drinking.

Look beyond time

There’s such a wide range in the amount of time it can take for someone to turn an action into a habit. That’s because time isn’t the only factor you have to think about when it comes to changing behaviors. Dr. Thomas Plante, Director, Spirituality & Health Institute, Psychology Department, Santa Clara University and Adjunct Clinical Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University School of Medicine explains:

“One important issue is how strongly do you really want to break the habit in question. Second, how established is the problem habit? It is easier to break a new habit than an old one. Third, what are the consequences of not breaking the habit?”

It’s one thing to make a generic goal to exercise more, but if you thoroughly enjoy being a couch potato, it’s going to be harder to get into the exercise habit. If you’ve had a bad habit for a long time, it’s much harder to ditch it because you’ve had more repetitions of that behavior.

If exercising more won’t do much to change your life, you might find it tough to be active. On the other hand, if your doctor tells you that you won’t live to see your child’s 18th birthday unless you start moving, you have more incentive to change.

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Plante also notes that people who tend to be obsessive and those who struggle with addiction may have a harder time breaking habits than the average person.

Set aside time to change

The most powerful changes don’t happen overnight, and they probably won’t happen in 21 days. Set aside at least two months to change, but understand that altering habits is different for everyone. If you’ve had the habit for a long time, or you have to break an addiction or obsession, you may need more time.

We all make changes at different speeds based on lots of variables. The intention behind your actions, your ability to interrupt negative patterns, and the possible consequences of changing (or not changing) can also affect the time it takes adjust your habits.

Regardless of how long it takes, tackling bad habits and replacing them with good ones is essential for you to live your best life. Bad habits can keep you from achieving your full potential. They can make you sick, unproductive, and unhappy. The worst habits can even cost you your relationships and your life. Good habits set you up for success all-around.

Your health and wellness, your ability to connect with others, and your ability to live out your dreams start with good habits. If you’re ready to make changes, learn more about breaking bad habits by checking out How to Program Your Mind to Kick the Bad Habit

Featured photo credit: Freepik via freepik.com

Reference

[1]Habits for Wellbeing: What is a habit, how do they work, and how can I change them?
[2]Maxwell Maltz: The New Psycho Cybernetics
[3]Selfgrowth.com: Change a habit in 28 days
[4]European Journal of Social Psychology: How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world
[5]Hopes and Fears: How long does it really take to break a habit?

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Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Last Updated on December 13, 2018

There Is More to Life Than  ____________

There Is More to Life Than  ____________

I decided to leave the title of this article open ended, because I’d like you to fill in what words best fit that blank. We’re all unique individuals from different walks of life, and in different stages of life; so, that sentence will have a different meaning for each of us.

If you’re a busy working professional, why are you working in the job that you have now?

Is it because it’s something you’re passionate about and brings you a lot of satisfaction? Or, is it because you studied that in college and just found a job that hired you for those skills? Perhaps it’s because of the money that you’re earning, or know you can earn down the line?

What if you’re about to retire? You’ve got, say, 2 to 3 more years before you hit your ‘deadline’ for retiring. Have you done all that you’ve wanted to do in the past 30-40 years? Any unfulfilled goals or dreams? Are you happy with the outcome of your life to date, all the decisions and/or risks that you’ve made thus far?

I’m sure many of us started working after college in hopes of earning a good living–to be financially stable and able to afford the ability to experience and do things that we love. We start establishing a career, and with time, tick off boxes on our bucket or ambition list. As you look back on the last couple of years, just how much of your time has been spent doing things that you enjoy and love–the things that give you a great sense of fulfillment and meaning?

Have you become a slave to the economy, a slave to your work, or a slave to your kids? Or have you found a balance between work and pleasure?

When is Enough Ever Enough?

Sadly, many of us live to work.

Realists would argue that if you truly want to work to live, you still need the finances to back that up. No money no talk. That is how the world runs today. So if you don’t earn or make enough dough, it’s hard to truly enjoy life; it’s hard to be happy without money.

So, in this quest to provide just that, many of us end up spending our whole lives pursuing wealth and a life of status and material wants. But, is it ever enough? Is there such a thing as having too much money? And, at what expense?

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Many wealthy entrepreneurs, millionaires and even billionaires have come to agree that money doesn’t bring you all the happiness in the world. It’s good to have, but it doesn’t truly satisfy all desires. There comes a point where you would have ‘had it all’ and still feel a sense of emptiness: an empty void that needs to be filled, not with money or material possessions.

So the question is then, what more is there to life if not for financial stability, status or material possessions?

How do we make work a part of life instead of having it consume our life entirely? Perhaps we need to go back to look at the word life itself.

What is Your Purpose in Life?

What is the nature of life? What does life mean to you? Is there a purpose?

If we seek jobs, all we will find are jobs. But if we have a sense of purpose in how we are productive; if we seek a calling, then we will find more than a job. We will find our contribution to humanity and we will find more to life. Would you agree?

Research has shown that having purpose and meaning in life increases overall well-being and life satisfaction, improves mental and physical health, enhances resiliency, enhances self-esteem, and decreases the chances of depression. So it should be noted that to be happy in life isn’t always enough, because happiness is a surge of emotions that does not last. Instead, it’s more important to find and have meaning in life.

Meaning is not only about transcending the self, but also about transcending the present moment. While happiness is an emotion felt in the here and now, it ultimately fades away, just as all emotions do; positive affect and feelings of pleasure are fleeting. The amount of time people report feeling good or bad correlates with happiness, but not at all with meaning.

Have You Been Going on a Wild Goose Chase?

Ironically, the single-minded pursuit of happiness is leaving people less happy. “It is the very pursuit of happiness, that thwarts happiness”, according to Viktor Frankl, a famous Austrian Neurologist and Holocaust survivor. Going back to the common example of pursuing riches in order to be happy is exactly what makes many so unhappy.

So again, look at the statement “There is more to life than ______.”

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Have you answered it meaningfully? If you’ve read on this far, and are now wondering how to take that first step to figuring out what your true purpose is in life, fret not; I’m here to help you reframe your mind and actions, so that you can embark on a journey of finding true meaning to your life.

Everything that you can do and accomplish in life are bounded by 7 Cornerstone Skills. These are the true essentials needed to achieve excellence. They’ll put you on a path that gives great meaning and satisfaction in life. And, the best thing of all? They already exist in each of us. We just don’t always make the most of it, or sometimes we aren’t even aware of the power that each of these skills have to help us in life.

On it’s own, each skill is unique and can help you through different stages of life, or problems. But as a whole set, these 7 Cornerstone Skills will give you full transformation over any situation. No matter what phase of life you’re in, what you’re striving to achieve, or what feel you’re lacking, your pursuit of meaning in life will be much faster when you’re able to make use of not one, not two, but all 7 Cornerstone Skills.

The 7 Cornerstone Skills

So let me give you a glimpse into what these 7 Cornerstone skills are.

Creativity

Creativity empowers you to find unique solutions to problems, and see things in ways that you least expect.

It goes beyond the artistic impressions and aesthetics, and is a crucial building block of change.

Learning

Without Learning, you will not be able to advance and progress in life. Yet, there are many of us who always fall behind not because they don’t have the intellectual ability, but because they don’t know how to learn effectively.

Memory

And then we have Memory, one of the most vital components, because without that you have nothing to fall back on, nothing to gain from all the learning or experiences that you’re exposed to on this earth.

And with an ever increasing amount of information available, how can you store up as much knowledge as you can without overloading?

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Focus

And with any and everything that you do, a certain amount of Focus is always given.

Whether it’s the career ladder that you’ve been climbing, or the responsibility of being a parent, Focus is a flow that allows you to push towards the progress that you’re striving for.

Without focus, we find ourselves lost, demotivated and stuck in a rut.

Motivation

Many of us aren’t happy in life or with our jobs and responsibilities because we lack Motivation, and an overarching purpose as I already mentioned earlier. Motivation helps drive you forward, and gives you the focus achieve your purpose.

Habits

If you realize, every new day that comes is filled with routines. Whether it’s getting ready for work in the morning, putting your kids to bed in the evening, or setting aside time during the weekends for family time and activities, it all happens as a result of habits that you’ve built over time.

Therefore Habits dictate a big part of your life. Pursuing happiness, money or meaning all have a dependency on your habits. If you find yourself being controlled by bad or negative habits, it’s more likely to hinder you from being productive and reaching those goals.

Time

This also ends up leading to bad use of Time, or poor time management.

You might feel like you haven’t built a stable career yet because you lack proper time management. You find yourself spending a lot of time being busy, yet producing little outcomes.

Or certain habits might be consuming time that you can be using for other more productive tasks.

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Perhaps you’re on your way to retirement, and feel like it’s too late to find new meaning to your life. There’s not much time left to embark on a new journey again.

Are You Ready to Live Your Best Life?

The simple fact is, that if you can sharpen these 7 Cornerstone skills, you will realize that finding meaning in life, or reaching the goals and ambitions that you’ve set out for yourself, no matter what stage of life you’re in, is very attainable.

There is no magical method to having life figured out. The skills have always been there since day 1, you just need to know how to use it to the best of your advantage.

And I’m here to show you just how you can do that. Lifehack is all about equipping you with the best and most effective ways to increase your productivity, motivation and focus to achieve true Purpose in life, in as little time as possible.

Embark on a transformational journey with us as we show you how to learn and improve your 7 Cornerstone Skills so that you’ll come out a new person, ready to either pursue your existing goals at a much quicker rate, or to find new goals to pursue without being limited by time, age or responsibilities.

If you’ve been wanting a change, or been stuck in a rut for a while now, here is your chance to get started on pushing towards progress again.

Anyone can transform, anyone can change. Are you ready to live your best life? Click here to start your journey!

 

Featured photo credit: Caroline Hernandez via unsplash.com

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