How many days does it take to make something 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.

MYTH PRO 21 DAY. Or how long it takes to build a habit #579

There is a common misconception that a habit can be built in 21 days. All you have to do is start doing the action you want to turn into a habit, and in three weeks the new habit will be built in.

Now the question is, how often have you been able to build a new habit so quickly? Decided to start jogging in the morning - and after three weeks it is already an integral part of your life? Have you started learning a foreign language - and after a month it is impossible to tear you away from the dictionary? You started blogging, and in three weeks you are already turning into a writer who drags paper and a pen to bed with you? nine0005

“Where, you ask, did the number 21 come from?” I will answer you - it got into the science of success due to a misunderstanding. One author wrote about it, another picked it up, a third republished it, and the myth spread through books about success.

In fact, 21 days exist as a confirmed fact. The American space agency NASA conducted an experiment and invited participants to wear, without removing, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, lenses that turned the picture of the world upside down, 180 degrees. nine0005

The task of scientists was to track how a person will behave emotionally in a situation where his world is turned upside down. And suddenly, scientists discovered that after about three weeks, one of the participants in the experiment turned the picture of the world upside down and became normal again. In the next few days, the rest of the participants in the experiment also turned their worldviews upside down and became normal.

Scientists went further and in the following experiments suggested that the participants of the experiment take off their glasses after ten days, and then put them on after a while. How long do you think it took for the picture of the world to become normal? It took 21 days again! nine0005

Think about it, when you and I want to build a new habit, do we have the same conditions as the participants in the experiment? You will probably agree that it is not.

On the other hand, a new habit can be built in an instant through the realization of what hinders and destroys you.

At some point, I discovered that a bed left unmade in the morning leaves an incompleteness inside of me that accompanies me throughout the day. I suddenly realized that this is why I can not bring things to the end. I lose energy during the day. In one instant, I got rid of the destructive habit of not making my bed, which I had built into myself for over 30 years. Since then, I always make the bed, no matter where it is - at home, at a party or in a hotel, even knowing that in half an hour the maid will come and clean it up. nine0005

"So how long does it take to build a habit?" - you ask. As author and creator of The Amazing Game of Life™ Jim Bunch says, “It takes as long as it takes to build a new habit.”

Nevertheless, scientists agree that 90 or more days are needed in order to build a habit, a new skill, a new ability, a new model of behavior.

THE AMAZING GAME OF LIFE™ - Happiness, Health, Wealth in just 90 days! Learn more: http://udivitelnaja-igra-zhizni. com/

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How do habits work and why can't we change them? Neuroscientist explains

Survival manual


Elina Orudzheva


Svetlana Durboi

July 24, 2021 19:14

We talked with neurobiologist, scientific director of the Center for Brain Development Ilya Martynov about habits and found out why bad habits are developed faster than good ones, is it true that any habit can be formed in 21 days, and why you need to stop relying on willpower.

What is brain plasticity and how is it related to habits?

Our brain is made up of nerve cells, each of which can have many branches. With their help, cells communicate with each other into entire neural networks. They can be considered a kind of functional blocks of the brain. And neuroplasticity is the ability of the neural networks of the brain to change in the process of its growth and development, as well as throughout life. nine0005

From the point of view of modern neuroscience, a habit is a certain combination of a chain of neurons, a neural network. Thus, neuroplasticity is the physiological basis of habit formation.

For habits in physiology, there is a whole term introduced by Ivan Pavlov - a dynamic stereotype. It is a stable complex of conditioned reflex reactions that are always implemented in a strictly defined sequence. Thus, a habit is a dynamic stereotype formed as a result of exposure to certain concomitant stimuli. nine0005

[In simple terms, a habit is an unconscious pattern of behavior] because our brain likes to automate everything [in order to conserve resources. When we have learned enough of a skill, the brain puts it into an automatic process]. For example, in the first years of life, a baby learns to walk: he falls, gets up, then clumsily takes his first steps, falls again. And later, the child moves his legs automatically both when walking and when running. Because it is more profitable for the brain to make this action involuntary, taken out of conscious control. nine0005

How long does it take to form a habit?

On average most habits take two months to form , but there may be some that take hundreds of days to develop. Much depends on the specific habit, physiological and psychological state of a person. In this case, individual differences are very strong. It all depends on the environment, the situation in which a person is, his health: for example, after a heart attack, in principle, it is more difficult to do anything and introduce a habit as well. It is a myth that a habit is developed in 21 days, it happens differently for each person. nine0005

Why do bad habits form faster than good ones?

If we talk about such bad habits as smoking, drinking alcohol and so on, then with their help our brain gets something valuable for itself, without putting much effort. We reach for a cigarette or candy, often without thinking why. Such bad habits are associated with a system of rewarding yourself for something or are tied to the desire to relax. When a person drinks, he not only stimulates the inhibitory neurons of the brain and interferes with the work of the activating systems of the brain, but also relieves himself of responsibility for his decisions, actions and words. This is generally a terribly seductive state: you are not responsible for anything. Narcotic substances spur the brain to instantly receive an increased dose of pleasure. Junk food also stimulates centers in our brains associated with hedonism. The brain wants to satisfy the need right now in the most affordable way - which is why many people like fast food, fatty, carbohydrate-rich foods that you can quickly get enough of and get a source of energy. nine0005

Once formed, relatively simple reflex behaviors are very difficult to remove.

Habits can be modified, they can disappear for a while, but when they get into a certain environment, a bad habit often returns, and even with renewed vigor. Therefore, it is important to pay attention to what habits - perhaps not even on purpose - you develop in yourself.

Suppose you were in an environment where you needed to eat at night: if you again find yourself in conditions where you need to eat again at such a time, then the habit will return with renewed vigor. Therefore, if we want to change it, we need to introduce additional parameters: we eat at night, but less, or we drink more liquid in order to somehow erode the physiological soil. nine0005

When it comes to forming a so-called useful habit, then usually the brain has to perform some kind of action that is not always pleasant, and often also very energy-consuming. And the brain has been trained by evolution to save energy. It's easier to drink a can of beer [and get instant gratification] than to exercise.

What if every attempt to introduce a habit ends in failure?

The fact is that it is important here not only what exactly is useful that we want to introduce into our lives, but also how we will master it. If you introduce a habit at once in a crowd, one neural network will be involved, and if it is staged, a set of neural networks will be involved. Gradually learning a new habit is more neuroplastic, because you can always change something in the sequence of actions, in addition, in a phased approach, skills are more easily retrieved from memory. Therefore new habit, if possible, it is better to introduce gradually .

Need-based motivation is very important in habit formation. When a person does not see the point in what he is doing, he is most likely to abandon it. Therefore, you need to set yourself specific goals and visualize them. The brain perceives the abstract goal “I want to be healthy” worse than the concrete one: I can run a marathon, get a pilot’s license, eliminate heart problems. Firstly, the brain can feel, “feel” such a goal, and secondly, it is associated with obtaining specific resources - social approval, monetary reward, something else. nine0005

Margaret Thatcher said in one of her interviews that she had made a habit of doing everything at once, without delay, ever since her studies at Oxford. They asked me to write an essay - she sat down and wrote it the same day. This made it possible not to waste the resource on unnecessary worries due to unfulfilled tasks. Time was freed up for what was interesting to her, for example, politics. In this case, the brain understood for what purpose it performs all tasks at once.

Developing a new habit is hard work. Therefore, it makes no sense to introduce 150 habits in one day, you need to do it gradually. Once you have consolidated one skill, allocating 2-3 months for it, move on to the next one. nine0101

It helps a lot to share a good habit with someone - to play sports together or cook healthy meals. Here the competitive moment turns on - the motivation to hold out longer than the other or, say, to win a bet. The reward thing also works: I will do something useful, and then I will buy myself some gift.

What is willpower?

I would define willpower as a set of features of the individual's psyche, characterized by its ability to suppress emotional impulses in pursuit of the intended goal. The problem is that willpower is practically impossible to somehow train , since it is quite tightly controlled by genes. Well, then unpleasant talk about the genetic lottery and all that.

I would advise you to turn to the works of Irina Yakutenko, who devoted a whole book to the problems of willpower. For example, she argues that weak self-control is based on impulsivity, when “impulses caused by the random influence of the external environment are stronger than understanding the importance of goals.” Yakutenko also points out that some of us are sensitive to positive reinforcements, others to negative ones. Some intrinsic motivation is strong, while others are weak. And this, in her opinion, can be taken into account when working on getting rid of unwanted habits. nine0005

You need to understand that willpower is a very limited resource . If, for example, a person suddenly wants to change his lifestyle and at the same time goes on a diet, quits smoking and starts playing sports, it is clear that with so many tasks, there will no longer be any strength left for any other habits and skills.

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