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Last Updated on February 19, 2019

How Long Does It Take to Break a Habit? Science Will Tell You

How Long Does It Take to Break a Habit? Science Will Tell You

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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Last Updated on June 19, 2019

10 Best Ted Talks About Procrastination That Will Ignite Your Motivation

10 Best Ted Talks About Procrastination That Will Ignite Your Motivation

There are two types of people in this world; one who wants to complete their work as early as possible and one who wants to delay it as much they can. The first category of this depicts ‘precrastinators’ and the latter one are termed as ‘procrastinators’.

Much has been researched and published about procrastination; most of the studies terming it as detrimental to one’s health and adding to stress levels. Though, there are ‘procrastinating apologists’ as you would call them who proclaim there are a few benefits of it as well. But scientists have argued that the detriments of procrastination far outweigh the short-term benefits of it.

Everybody procrastinates, but not everybody is a procrastinator. Procrastination is habitual, not situational.

For an employee, it means piling up work until the end hours of their shift and then completing it in a hurry. For a student, it means not studying for an exam that is due the next week and cramming up the whole book one night before.

If you fall into this category, do not worry, there have also been articles published and speeches given by successful leaders on how procrastinators aren’t so bad after all.

Here are 10 of the best Ted Talks about procrastination that will help you regain motivation:

1. Inside the Mind of a Master Procrastinator, by Tim Urban

Tim Urban gives his funny uptake on procrastination and dives deep into how a procrastinator’s mind functions. He goes ahead and tells the audience about how ‘precrastinators’ have a rational decision-maker in their mind but in a procrastinator’s mind, there are two other entities existing — the ‘instant gratification monkey’ and ‘the panic monster’

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From the video, you will learn how to stay aware of the ‘instant gratification monkey’ whenever you have to complete a task.

2. The Surprising Habits Of Original Thinkers, by Adam Grant

In this video, Adam Grant builds on the concepts of ‘instant gratification monkey’ and ‘the panic monster,’ and marks a balance between ‘precrastinators’ and procrastinators giving existence to a productive and creative persona.

He talks about how a lot of great personalities in the course of history were procrastinators giving an example of Martin Luther King Jr. delaying the writing of his speech. ‘I have a dream’ was not in the script but was an original phrase by the leader; he opened himself to every possible avenue by not going with the script.

You can learn about how one has to be different and better rather than be the first-mover, going deep into the correlation between original thinkers and procrastinators.

3. An End To Procrastination, by Archana Murthy

According to a survey,[1] 20% of Americans are chronic procrastinators. Study after study shows chronic procrastination isn’t just laziness and poor time-management, but is actually a byproduct of negative emotions such as guilt, anxiety, depression and low self-worth — which is different from the contrary belief.

Archana Murthy gives us an insight into the procrastinator’s plight and provides ways to help the procrastinator in you.

For a fellow procrastinator, you should check out her good advice on how to end it.

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4. Why We Procrastinate, by Vik Nithy

Vik Nithy has already found 23 companies before coming to give his speech on procrastination. He puts forward the structure of our brain, showing the prefrontal cortex as the intelligent one telling us to complete the assignment due next day.

Procrastinators are threatened by complex work which gives them anxiety and that is where Amygdala comes in telling us to find pleasure in other activities.

Going ahead, you’ll from him how to overcome procrastination i.e. planning for goals, time, resources, process, distractions, and for failure.

5. Trust The Procrastinator, by Valerie Brown

Frankly, this is one of the best speeches on procrastination given on the TedTalks platform. Valerie Brown tells us that we live in a society where every body wants everything right now and procrastinators aren’t in those ‘right-now’ people.

She gives us an example of great procrastinators like Leonardo Da Vinci, who regarded himself as a failure at one point of time and took 16 years to complete the Mona Lisa. She gives us another perspective on procrastinators that it isn’t necessarily bad for one’s career or health.

6. Procrastination Is The Key To Problem Solving, by Andrea Jackson

Andrea Jackson gives us her two categories of procrastinators: the accidental procrastinators and the deliberate procrastinators. She puts Leonardo Da Vinci in the former category and Thomas Edison in the latter one.

There is a part where she labels procrastinators as unlocking a supersonic jigsaw puzzle in their head when they procrastinate; it means bringing thousands of ideas in one’s head when one procrastinates and keeps thinking about it. She calls Salvador Dali and Aristotle as deliberate procrastinators where they used to delay work in order to achieve a more creative result.

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In this video, you’ll learn a new perspective about procrastinators.

7. The Vaccination For Procrastination, by Bronwyn Clee

Bronwyn Clee takes us in the psychology of a procrastinator, telling us that fear stops us taking up new work.

She shares how she taught herself to be a decision-maker and not to fear if she will be able to take an action or not. From this video, you will learn how to bring the change in yourself and end procrastination.

8. I’m Not Lazy, I’m Procrastinating, by Victoria Gonzalez

Coming from a millennial, this is more relatable to the younger generation.

Victoria Gonzalez tells us that procrastination has nothing do with time-management skills. In fact, a procrastinator puts off work but with an intention to complete it; lazy people are the opposite of that who don’t even try.

9. Change Anything! Use Skillpower Over Willpower, by AI Wizler

Al Wizler, cofounder of VitalSmarts, gives us an example of her mother’s smoking habits which she wanted to quit but she just couldn’t even after trying for years. Eventually, she died of cancer.

He reminds us to the need to take control of the forces that influence our decisions, rather than letting them take control of ourselves.

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In this video, you’ll learn the importance of self-reflection, identifying your behaviours, and getting to work on it.

10. How To Motivate Yourself To Change Your Behaviour, by Tali Sharot

Tali Sharot, a neuroscientist explains how we behave when put through alternating situations.

She has found that people get to work when they are rewarded for an action immediately. Procrastinators can get themselves to work and reward themselves for it, which will lead to a change in their behaviour if they actually start that process of working sooner and completing it.

In this video, you’ll learn about the role of celebrating small wins and tracking your progress when you’re trying to reach your goals.

The Bottom Line

Procrastinators can find all kinds of advices on TedTalks.

A few of them, defending the idea and proclaiming that it actually allows for a more creative process and one that people shouldn’t feel so guilty about. Some of them, giving suggestions on how to put an end to it and making you a faster worker.

It all depends on how you want to perceive it and if you want to, you can find the cure for this ailment.

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Featured photo credit: Han Chau via unsplash.com

Reference

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