How long before something becomes 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


21 days a habit is formed and becomes your second nature, your program

Why does it take 21 days to develop a habit and is it right to call it a habit of happy people? This is from psychology. Good habits are formed in 21 days of daily doing. During these three weeks, you accustom yourself to do something that is useful for you, but to do laziness. As a rule, in some new useful undertaking, for example, starting communication with a person with a smile, or going on a diet and losing weight, or just doing exercises in the morning - for many of us, the most difficult thing is just to force ourselves to start doing this.

  • Get over yourself! 21 days to form a habit
  • Sign a contract with yourself "my new healthy habit in 21 days"
  • 21 days for trial and fitting
  • in 21 days a new habit: planning new useful skills
  • New useful skills and habits
  • Video for a new habit: doing morning exercises

In order to get off the ground, there is a very simple and effective way, which is that in 21 days a habit is formed and then you do something useful for yourself already habitually on the machine, this is such a temporary and a short 21 day experiment.

Agree, it's hard to promise yourself, for example never to eat sweets and cakes again or do exercises in the morning for the rest of your life - usually such promises are not kept and there are thousands of reasons not to do it.

It's quite another thing if you make a promise to yourself to do a little test, to try, to do a little experiment "Introduction of my new useful skill" and say to yourself I in 21 days I will form a habit to do exercises, for example, if after 21 days I don't like it or it doesn’t fit, I’ll drop it and forget it, and if it does, then maybe I’ll continue, it will be seen there. Believe me - completely different results!

Making a 21-day promise to yourself is easy, anyone can do it!

Why the experiment: because until you try it yourself, you won’t understand if I really need it, or maybe it won’t suit me for some reason (for example, exercising in the morning until you try, it’s not clear, but to try just this experiment is needed for 21 days to develop a habit , this is the most effective way to start doing)

Within 21 days of forming a habit be sure to write on a piece of paper (see picture) fix - did the “plus” exercise, missed the day - put a “minus” on the sheet for yourself, a sheet of paper is your material promise to yourself (your signed contract with yourself) for your new skill, and the pros and cons are your conscience: 0).

Why 21 days for habit ? It is very long and difficult to explain, I will only say that this is from psychology. During this time, a person gets used to something new, gets used to it, he sees the results - yes, it is beneficial for business, yes, it is good for health - try to persuade him now to stop doing it ...

After such an experiment, that is, after 21 days daily doing, a person develops a habit at the level of habit and also has experience in using this skill.

If this skill after 21 days of doing is recognized as useful by a person, the person decided "yes, this skill turned out to be useful to me", it is beneficial to the person, then we continue the temporary experiment.

Did you like it?
Then 21 more days!

We continue the experiment for another 21 days. If this skill is recognized as very very profitable or very very useful, then the temporary experiment can be continued immediately for a longer period (say, for 100 days or even 1 year) or perhaps for a lifetime (there is already more desire and pleasure from doing so you can feel it yourself).

Didn't like it?
Drop it!

If a skill has shown itself to be so-so within 21 days of doing it, it is useless, or it just didn’t suit you, as they say, “not yours” (for example, you wanted to learn how to play the guitar, 21 fingers were all in calluses, you feel, well, not your instrument, now I want a snow-white piano ;0), then the new skill is forgotten, thrown away like a plastic cup without regret.

It should be noted that it is impossible to immediately abandon what has been planned. For example, they played the guitar for two days, it doesn't work, they didn't like it, they left it - this is the wrong approach. No one succeeds right away, a lot of effort is applied - the results are almost invisible at the start, this is normal, you need to make an effort, figure it out, overcome the first “failures”, in order to understand whether it is “yours” or not. 21 days for a habit helps to decide on the choice "is it mine or not mine".

Understanding is more important than knowledge!

in 21 days a new habit: planning new useful skills

    Each of us has something that we want to do, but we constantly put it off because of laziness, busyness, fear that it will not work out. Let's now make a list of your experiments with you for 21 days without complaints and reproaches, for this you only need a piece of paper and a pen.

  • Take a piece of paper right now, write a list of 10 (as many as possible) new useful skills that you would like to get into your piggy bank of your skills and abilities, for example: Read a book before bed
    Be positive in communication with other people
    Work on your figure lose weight lose weight
    any useful skill you need can be turned into a new habit, determine where you need changes to improve your life

  • Select from the list the skill with which it is easiest for you to start

  • On the back of the sheet, write a step-by-step plan - decide what exactly needs to be done and how many times or for how long, i.e. specifics do one do two do three (for example, physical education exercises in the morning: wave your arms 10 times, kick your legs 10 times, squat 10 times, make a face 5 times, puff out your cheeks 5 times, etc. what kind of exercises do you know best in the morning)

  • Now, take another sheet of paper and draw 21 mugs on it this is your program for 21 days, decide on what date you will start, put this date on top of the sheet of paper and go! Done today - put in a mug "plus", not done - put in a mug "minus". This "didn't done" circle sheet is your mental focus on what you're doing, it helps a lot in a new endeavor to keep your promise to do.

New useful skills and habits

This is how you can introduce any useful skill or habit into your daily life and make it a habit in 21 days. After 21 days of the experiment, you will not only KNOW that this can be useful or beneficial in principle, but you will UNDERSTAND exactly that this particular skill is definitely beneficial and definitely useful to you specifically and be able to do it well and for your own good. And since you usually want to make improvements in your life in several important areas of life at once, the wheel of life will help you plan the improvements you need, for example: health - morning exercises, finances - cost accounting, relationships - .

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