How Long Does It Take to Form a Habit? Science Based Answer

We like to know how much time and energy we’ll have to put in for a certain outcome, to determine if it’s worth the effort. We feel the same way when it comes to habits. This has birthed several myths and a lot of different answers to the question: “How long does it take to form a habit?”

Let’s have a look at how long it takes to form a new habit and which factors influence the duration.

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How long does it take to form a new habit?

What is a habit

A habit is a behavior you have repeated so many times that it becomes automatic. The most obvious of these are the physical, such as reading or dietary, but also your thoughts and emotions are influenced by your habits. According to researchers, about 40% of everything you do is controlled by your habits.

Habits have a huge influence on your emotions and routines. They are what determine where you’ll be a year from now. Understanding what they are, how they form, and what to expect will make it easier to improve them and create a better future.

How long does it take to form a habit?

Various “experts” have shared their opinions and guesses on how long it takes to form a habit. The most popular of these is the 21/90 rule, which people commonly use as a timeframe for building better habits.

In 2009, a medical researcher called Philllipa Lally created a study to determine how long it takes to form a new habit.

The study showed that it takes somewhere between 18-254 days, with an average of 66 days, to turn a new behavior into a habit. This means that there isn’t some set number of times you have to repeat something until it becomes a habit.

But one thing is sure. The longer you repeat the behavior, the easier it’ll be to make it stick.

Related: What happens if you miss a day of your habit?

What determines how many days it takes to build a habit?

The study showed a 236-day difference between the fastest and slowest formed habit. There are many factors that determines how long it takes. Below you’ll find 3 of the most influential.

Related: How to build a habit

The behavior

The easier the behavior is, the easier it’ll be to make it a habit. The more effort you have to put into it, the longer it’ll take.

Flossing is a small behavior. It doesn’t require much time or energy or cause significant discomfort. Running, on the other hand, is a large behavior. It requires a significant amount of time and energy and can cause discomfort.

Because of this, creating a habit of flossing is often easier than running.

Related: Why small wins matter

Your personality

Your personality influences how long it takes to form a new habit. The closer the behavior aligns with who you are, the easier it’ll be to develop it.

A person who enjoys being active will find it far easier to build a new exercise habit than one who doesn’t. The more enjoyment you get from doing the behavior, the easier it’ll be to form it.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t build a habit you don’t love. It might be harder, but as you form it, your identity will slowly change. This will make developing supporting habits easier in the future.

Your lifestyle and circumstances

Your lifestyle and circumstances influence which habits you can develop and how fast.

If you spend most of your day in bed with your phone, it’ll be easier to develop habits to support this. Bad habits such as unnecessary snacking, binge-watching, and procrastination are easier formed.

If you already spend a lot of time working out, you’ll find it easier to develop other habits to support this. Good habits such as improved diet, increased activity, or a better sleep schedule are easier formed.

The further a habit lies from your current lifestyle, the longer it’ll take to develop. But often, these difficult changes are what create the largest impact.

Related: How one habit can change your life

Finishing thoughts

It takes between 18-254 days, with an average of 66 days, to form a new habit. The reason for the 236-day time difference has to be found in several factors, such as the behavior, your personality, and your lifestyle. The further it is from who you are and how much discomfort it creates, the longer it’ll take.

But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth it to create a difficult habit. These habits are often those that’ll create the most long-term impact on your life. Sometimes, developing one difficult but good habit can be enough to change your life.

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