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Last Updated on July 5, 2022

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

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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 and when you obtain a reward for doing something, you keep doing it.

You will create bad habits if you don’t plan your actions and rewards. These behaviors lead to self-destructive behavior, failure, and bad health. On the other hand, good habits enable health, happiness, and dream fulfillment.

So the question is, how long does it take to break a habit?

It’s difficult to break bad habits. We’ve all experienced it, whether we’ve failed our newest diet (again) or procrastinated working on a long-overdue work assignment.

This is primarily due to the continual bombardment of stimuli that hijack the reward-based learning system in our brains, which was created to help us survive in the first place.

While some claim that it takes 21 days to break a habit, others say a month, but what is the correct response?

How Long Does It Take to Break a Habit?

There is no magic number of repeats required to internalize the desired habits, which means there is no concrete answer to “how many days does it take to break a habit?”

Researchers have offered several theories on habit development.

The 21-Day Rule (Or Myth?)

Maxwell Maltz’s Psycho-Cybernetics (1960) is one of the oldest and most prominent works on the subject. Dr. Maltz, a plastic surgeon, wanted to know how individuals felt about themselves. He was particularly interested in how long it took patients to adjust to his alterations after surgery.

He calculated that it required at least 21 days for people to shift from studying his patients and reflecting on their behaviors.

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 answered the query of “how long does it take to break a habit” by using 21 days as a benchmark. People began to overlook the fact that he mentioned “a minimum of roughly 21 days” rather than “it takes 21 days to create a new habit.”

The answer to “how long to break a habit” was manipulated.

Give Yourself a Month?

Others answer the question “how long does it take to change a habit” differently. Some 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 widely accepted statistic, but many people preferred the 21-day rule promoted by Maltz since it was simple and faster to follow than the common 28-30 guideline.

Check out this video to learn more about the fallacies around how long it takes to quit a habit:

The Time-Frame for Changing Habits Varies

While the 21 and 28-day norms appeal to our urge to change rapidly, a 2009 study from University College London reveals that the transition window might be substantially larger. The study, published in The European Journal of Social Psychology, monitored 96 participants for 12 weeks to see how they formed habits.

It also gave insight into finding out how long does it take to break a habit?

The University College London research looked at automaticity, or how fast participants participated in the behaviors they wished to become routines. Researchers explained:[4]

As behaviors are repeated in regular contexts, they become more efficient and require less cognition as control of the behavior is transferred to environmental signals that trigger an automatic response: a habit.

It takes different amounts of time for activities to become habits. It takes 18 to 254 days for participants to acquire a habit. The average number of days required for automaticity was 76.

Make Habits to Break Habits

Understanding the link between creating new habits and breaking old ones makes the process smoother. When you ask how long it takes to change a habit, you also need to focus on replacing bad habits with good ones.

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

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

It’s difficult to quit anything cold turkey because you’ve programmed yourself to want to do it. Quitting smoking, for example, is difficult beyond the physical addiction to nicotine.

Another component that makes quitting difficult is the routine of how a person prepares to smoke. To break this unhealthy habit, the individual must find something to replace the gap left by the smoking routine. It’s the same with quitting drinking.

Look Beyond Time

When finding the answer to “how long does it take to break a habit,” one needs to understand that the length of time it takes to transform an action into a habit varies greatly. Time isn’t the only thing to consider when it comes to modifying behavior.

Dr. Thomas Plante, Director of the Spirituality & Health Institute at Santa Clara University’s Psychology Department and Adjunct Clinical Professor at Stanford University School of Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, 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?”

Making a general aim to exercise more is one thing, but if you prefer being a couch potato, getting into the exercise habit will be more difficult. It’s far more difficult to break a poor habit if you’ve had it for a long time since you’ve had more opportunities.

If you think that exercising more won’t make a significant difference in your life, you may find it difficult to stay active. If your doctor informs you that you won’t survive seeing your child’s 18th birthday unless you start moving, you’ll be more motivated to change.

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Plante also mentions that persons who are compulsive or suffer from addiction may have difficulty changing bad behaviors.

Set Aside Time to Change

The most significant changes do not occur overnight, and they are unlikely to occur in 21 days.

Allow at least two months to adjust your behaviors, but remember that everyone’s patterns are different. You may require extra time if you’ve had the habit for a long period or are trying to break an addiction or fixation.

We all change at various rates, depending on a variety of factors. The intention behind your actions influences the time it takes to change your habits, your capacity to break unfavorable patterns, and the potential repercussions of changing (or not changing).

Taking on unhealthy habits and replacing them with good ones is critical to living your best life, no matter how long it takes.

You can’t reach your maximum potential if you have bad habits. They have the potential to make you ill, unproductive, and unhappy. The worst behaviors might potentially cost you your life and relationships. Good habits set you up for overall success.

Good habits start with your health and wellness your capacity to connect with people, and your ability to carry out your aspirations if you’re ready to make a change, see How to Program Your Mind to Kick the Bad Habit

Final Thoughts

So how long does it take to break a habit?

There are numerous theories that answer this question. A key takeaway from this article is that breaking a habit would require time and effort. One needs to practice patience and have faith in their resolve.

Everyone has habits, and none of them are necessarily bad. Some are quite beneficial, such as laying out your work clothes the night before or turning out the lights when you leave a room.

Other behaviors, such as chewing your nails, drinking coffee late in the day, or pressing the snooze button too frequently, may not be as healthy.

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It can be tough to break bad habits, especially if you’ve been doing them for a long period. Understanding how habits emerge in the first place, on the other hand, might make the process go more smoothly.

The initial days of breaking any habit are difficult. This is when you need to be resolute in not falling back on the old habits. However, when this phase passes, you tend to grasp how to handle the cravings or behaviors that you want to get rid of. Click here to find out how to get rid of bad habits.

TL;DR

Don't have time for the full article? Read this.

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

You will create bad habits if you don’t plan your actions and rewards.

The 21-Day Rule – it takes at least 21 days for people to shift from studying his patients and reflecting on their behaviors.

Some self-help authors state that habits take 28 to 30 days to form.

Make Habits to Break Habits – “It’s easier to start doing something new than to stop doing something habitual without a replacement behavior.” – Dr. Elliot Berkman, Director, Social and Affective Neuroscience Laboratory, Department of Psychology, University of Oregon

Good habits start with your health and wellness your capacity to connect with people, and your ability to carry out your aspirations if you’re ready to make a change, see 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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