Days to make a habit

How Long Does it Take to Form a Habit? Backed by Science.

Maxwell Maltz was a plastic surgeon in the 1950s when he began noticing a strange pattern among his patients.

When Dr. Maltz would perform an operation — like a nose job, for example — he found that it would take the patient about 21 days to get used to seeing their new face. Similarly, when a patient had an arm or a leg amputated, Maxwell Maltz noticed that the patient would sense a phantom limb for about 21 days before adjusting to the new situation.

These experiences prompted Maltz to think about his own adjustment period to changes and new behaviors, and he noticed that it also took himself about 21 days to form a new habit. Maltz wrote about these experiences and said, “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, Maltz published that quote and his other thoughts on behavior change in a book called Psycho-Cybernetics (audiobook). The book went on to become an blockbuster hit, selling more than 30 million copies.

And that’s when the problem started.

You see, in the decades that followed, Maltz’s work influenced nearly every major “self-help” professional from Zig Ziglar to Brian Tracy to Tony Robbins. And as more people recited Maltz's story — like a very long game of “Telephone” — people began to forget that he said “a minimum of about 21 days” and shortened it to, “It takes 21 days to form a new habit.”

And that’s how society started spreading the common myth that it takes 21 days to form a new habit (or 30 days or some other magic number). It's remarkable how often these timelines are quoted as statistical facts. Dangerous lesson: If enough people say something enough times, then everyone else starts to believe it.

It makes sense why the “21 Days” Myth would spread. It’s easy to understand. The time frame is short enough to be inspiring, but long enough to be believable. And who wouldn’t like the idea of changing your life in just three weeks?

But the problem is that Maxwell Maltz was simply observing what was going on around him and wasn’t making a statement of fact. Furthermore, he made sure to say that this was the minimum amount of time needed to adapt to a new change.

So what’s the real answer? How long does it take to form a habit? How long does it take a break a bad habit? Is there any science to back this up? And what does all of this mean for you and me?

How Long it Really Takes to Build a New Habit

Phillippa Lally is a health psychology researcher at University College London. In a study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, Lally and her research team decided to figure out just how long it actually takes to form a habit.

The study examined the habits of 96 people over a 12-week period. Each person chose one new habit for the 12 weeks and reported each day on whether or not they did the behavior and how automatic the behavior felt.

Some people chose simple habits like “drinking a bottle of water with lunch.” Others chose more difficult tasks like “running for 15 minutes before dinner. ” At the end of the 12 weeks, the researchers analyzed the data to determine how long it took each person to go from starting a new behavior to automatically doing it.

The answer?

On average, it takes more than 2 months before a new behavior becomes automatic — 66 days to be exact. And how long it takes a new habit to form can vary widely depending on the behavior, the person, and the circumstances. In Lally's study, it took anywhere from 18 days to 254 days for people to form a new habit. 1

In other words, if you want to set your expectations appropriately, the truth is that it will probably take you anywhere from two months to eight months to build a new behavior into your life — not 21 days.

Interestingly, the researchers also found that “missing one opportunity to perform the behavior did not materially affect the habit formation process.” In other words, it doesn’t matter if you mess up every now and then. Building better habits is not an all-or-nothing process.

Finding Inspiration in the Long Road

Before you let this dishearten you, let's talk about three reasons why this research is actually inspiring.

First, there is no reason to get down on yourself if you try something for a few weeks and it doesn't become a habit. It's supposed to take longer than that! There is no need to judge yourself if you can't master a behavior in 21 short days. Learn to love your 10 Years of Silence. Embrace the long, slow walk to greatness and focus on putting in your reps.

Second, you don't have to be perfect. Making a mistake once or twice has no measurable impact on your long-term habits. This is why you should treat failure like a scientist, give yourself permission to make mistakes, and develop strategies for getting back on track quickly.

And third, embracing longer timelines can help us realize that habits are a process and not an event. All of the “21 Days” hype can make it really easy to think, “Oh, I'll just do this and it'll be done. ” But habits never work that way. You have to embrace the process. You have to commit to the system.

Understanding this from the beginning makes it easier to manage your expectations and commit to making small, incremental improvements — rather than pressuring yourself into thinking that you have to do it all at once.

Where to Go From Here

At the end of the day, how long it takes to form a particular habit doesn't really matter that much. Whether it takes 50 days or 500 days, you have to put in the work either way.

The only way to get to Day 500 is to start with Day 1. So forget about the number and focus on doing the work.

If you want more practical ideas for breaking bad habits and creating good habits, check out my book Atomic Habits, which will show you how small changes in habits can lead to remarkable results.


  1. Even though the study only ran for 12 weeks, the researchers were able to use the data to estimate the longer timelines (like 254 days) to form habits. Again, the exact time depends on a variety of factors and isn't nearly as important as the overall message: habits can take a long time to form.

How Long Does It Really Take to Form a Habit? 7 Things to Consider

According to a 2009 study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, it takes 18 to 254 days for a person to form a new habit.

The study also concluded that, on average, it takes 66 days for a new behavior to become automatic.

Read on to learn why this is, how this figure varies, what you can do to help maximize your efforts, and more.

The 2009 study highlighted a range of variables in habit forming that make it impossible to establish a one-size-fits-all answer.

For example, certain habits take longer to form. As demonstrated in the study, many participants found it easier to adopt the habit of drinking a glass of water at breakfast than do 50 situps after morning coffee.

What’s more, some people are better suited to forming habits than others. A consistent routine of any kind isn’t for everyone, and that’s OK.

If asked how long it takes to form a habit, many people will respond “21 days.”

This idea can be traced back to “Psycho-Cybernetics,” a book published in 1960 by Dr. Maxwell Maltz.

Maltz didn’t make this claim but rather referenced this number as an observable metric in both himself and his patients at this time.

He wrote: “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 gel.”

But as the book became more popular — more than 30 million copies have been sold — this situational observation has become accepted as fact.

According to a 2012 study published in the British Journal of General Practice, habits are “actions that are triggered automatically in response to contextual cues that have been associated with their performance.”

For example, when you get into your car, you automatically put on the seat belt. You don’t think about doing it or why you do it.

Your brain likes habits because they’re efficient. When you automate common actions, you free up mental resources for other tasks.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), pleasure-based habits are particularly difficult to break, because enjoyable behavior prompts your brain to release dopamine.

Dopamine is the reward that strengthens the habit and creates the craving to do it again.

Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse, suggests that the first step is to become more aware of your habits so you can develop strategies to change them.

One strategy, Volkow suggests, is to identify the places, people, or activities that are linked in your mind to certain habits, and then change your behavior toward those.

For example, if you have a substance use disorder, you can be deliberate about avoiding situations where you’d be more likely to be around the substance. This can help you achieve your goal of abstaining from using that substance.

Another strategy is to replace a bad habit with a good one. For example, instead of snacking on potato chips, consider swapping for unsalted, unbuttered popcorn. Instead of reaching for a cigarette, consider trying a new flavor of chewing gum or a flavored hard candy.

It can take anywhere from 18 to 254 days for a person to form a new habit and an average of 66 days for a new behavior to become automatic.

There’s no one-size-fits-all figure, which is why this time frame is so broad; some habits are easier to form than others, and some people may find it easier to develop new behaviors.

There’s no right or wrong timeline. The only timeline that matters is the one that works best for you.

How many days does it take to create a new habit?

Where did this mythical number come from - 21 days?

Maxwell Maltz was a famous plastic surgeon in the fifties of the twentieth century. And one day he discovered a strange pattern.

When Maltz performed an operation - for example, to correct the nose - he noticed that it took about 21 days for patients to get used to a new face. And when a patient's arm or leg was amputated, most patients also experienced phantom pain for about 21 days until they adjusted to the new situation.

This experience made Maltz remember his personal experience of getting used to changes and new behavior. He realized that it also took him about 21 days to form a new habit.

Maltz wrote about this experience and said:

"These and many other frequently observed phenomena generally show that takes at least 21 days for the old mental image to dissipate and be replaced by the new ."

In 1960, Maltz published this quote and other thoughts on behavior change in a book called Psycho-Cybernetics. The book became a bestseller and has sold over 30 million copies.

And then there was a problem.

In the following decades, Maltz's work influenced almost every self-help professional from Zig Ziglar to Brian Tracy and Tony Robbins. And as in the game of "broken phone" - the more people retold the story of Maltz, the more people began to forget that he said: "at least 21 days." The quote was shortened and this is what came out:

"It takes 21 days to form a habit."

So a well-known myth spread in society that it takes 21 days (or 30 days or some other magic number) to create a habit.

Dangerous Lesson: If enough people repeat something enough times, then everyone else starts believing it.

It's easy to see why the 21-Day Myth has become so widespread. It's short enough to inspire us and long enough to be believable. Who wouldn't like the idea of ​​changing their lives in 3 weeks?

But the problem is that Maltz simply observed what was going on around him and did not state it as a fact. Moreover, he assured that this is exactly the minimum amount of time needed to adapt to changes .

But what is the real answer?

How long does it actually take to create new habits? What does science say about this?

And what does all this mean for you and me?

Science provides the answer.

And as always, it is quite unexpected...

University College London decided to find out the exact answer.

The 96 participants in were asked to choose a new habit they would like to acquire. Most were health-related, such as "eating a piece of fruit with lunch" or "jogging 15 minutes after dinner."

All 84 days of the study, they visited the site and left a small report: whether they performed the action, and how automatically it felt.

Doing an action without thinking - known in science as "automaticity" - turns out to be the main driver of habits. And it helps illuminate the real question: How long does it take to actually form a habit?

On average, participants who provided sufficient data took 66 days to form the habit .

Of course, there were significant differences in how long the habit took to form depending on what exactly needed to be done.

Those who simply had to drink a glass of water after breakfast achieved maximum automatism after about 20 days.

Those who were used to eating fruit at dinner took at least twice as long to form the habit.

The habit of exercise has become the most difficult.

“50 squats after morning coffee” did not become a habit for any of the participants.

“Walking 10 minutes after breakfast” became a habit for several participants after 50 days.

And as usual, the path to excellence is not a straight line.

When the researchers combined the results into a single graph, they found a relationship curve between habit and automaticity, not a straight line.

Early repetitions were most beneficial in establishing the habit, and the benefits gradually decreased over time.

It's like climbing a mountain. First there is a steep climb and you quickly move forward.

Then the climb flattens out, and the closer you get to the top, the smaller the increase in height with each step.

Some of us find it harder than others

The decline in the rate of consolidation was particularly pronounced among some participants for whom habit formation was particularly difficult. So much so that the researchers were surprised at how slowly some habits formed:

Although the study lasted only 84 days, by extrapolating the curves, it was found that some habits can take up to to form up to 254 days - most of the year !

Findings - inspiring and not so

What does this study show?

  1. Often, building a habit takes much longer than we think .
    This explains why we so often give up what we started. For example, running in the morning, or eating healthier, or not breaking down or screaming over nothing. You just need more time! And you just need to understand it, and be ready for it.
  2. 21 days is enough to create a habit if it is something very simple . For example, drink a glass of water after breakfast.
  3. Anything more complex will take longer. And in some activities, much, much more. Count on 50-60 days and even more. Sometimes it may take a whole year.
  4. For some of us, habits are especially difficult.
    In this case, you need to start with something very simple. And understand that you may have to spend more time. Practice, so to speak, on cats, understand the mechanics of the process and what works for you. And then move on to more complex ones.

I can tell you by myself that by practicing different habits, mastering some and failing others, you will understand how it works, and over time you can learn to develop habits much easier and with greater success.

Because habit is not something supernatural. It's just a matter of perseverance and "deliberate practice." Even Aristotle warned us about this:

We are what we do all the time. Perfection, therefore, is not an act, but a habit.

In the end, it doesn't matter how many days it takes you to form the habit you want - 50 or 500. One way or another, you can do it.

All you have to do is start from day one and repeat over and over again. Forget the numbers and just do your job for today.

– How are habits formed: Modeling habit formation in the real world


How long does it take to break or form a habit?

How long does it take to break or form a habit? - FoxTimeHow long does it take to break or form a habit? – Fox Time

Some habits can be good or bad, and a person often tends to fix the good ones and give up the bad ones. But it gets hard, right? According to science, we will tell you where to start.

Daily brushing of teeth or morning cup of invigorating coffee - all people have dozens of habits that help them get through the daily routine and prepare for the day ahead. Some of them are great, like going to the gym, and others are not really encouraged, like smoking.

Today there is no shortage of special applications designed to help a person form a habit, and many of them are built on the assumption that 21 days is enough time to establish a habit.

Where does this number come from? And it comes from a popular 1960 book called Psychocybernetics by Maxwell Maltz, a plastic surgeon who noted that it took his patients 21 days to get used to their new faces.

However, according to a 2009 study, the time it takes to form a habit is not really defined.

Researchers at University College London studied new habits in 96 people for 12 weeks and found that the average time it takes for a new habit to stick is actually 66 days. In addition, individual times ranged from 18 to a whopping 254 days.

On average, habit formation takes at least two months.

How about trying to break an unwanted habit?

Photo / Thiago Matos /

It turns out that these two processes - the formation and destruction of habits are quite closely related. As psychologist Timothy Pychil Alison Nastasi explains, “hopes” and “fears” are two sides of the same coin. Neuroscientist Elliot Berkman says it's much easier to start doing something new than it is to stop doing something you're used to without "replacement behavior," and that's the point. This is one reason why smoking cessation aids such as nicotine gum or inhalers tend to be more effective than simply putting on a nicotine patch.

Experts agree that there is no typical time frame for quitting a habit, and the right recipe will consist of a combination of personality, motivation, circumstances, and the habit in question.

“People who want to quit their habit for reasons that are consistent with their personal values ​​will change their behavior faster than people who do so for external reasons, such as pressure from others,” says Berkman.

According to psychology professor Susan Krauss Whitborn, sometimes a habit can be broken quickly: “In extreme cases, a habit can be broken instantly, for example, if you happen to get very sick while inhaling cigarette smoke or almost get hit by a bus while writing sms and go on foot.

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