That can have a serious effect on people trying to make lasting, positive changes to their health. Whether you want to eat less sugar, exercise more or even just floss daily, you need to know how long it will take to make those changes stick.
Here is how forming a habit works — plus some tips on how to kick the bad ones.
What is a habit?
A habit is any action you’ve done so much it’s now routine. Over time, habits become so ingrained that we do them subconsciously, or without thinking. Habits can range from simple things — cracking your knuckles, brushing your teeth, checking your phone — to complex actions like doing a yoga pose or driving to work.
How do you form a habit?
Repetition. The more you think about or do something, the more likely you are to continue doing that thing. Eventually, the action becomes automatic. If you’ve ever said, “I do ___ without even thinking about it,” that’s a habit.
How long does it take to form a habit?
About 2 months. Based on the leading study, habit-forming happens in:
- 66 days on average (2+ months)
- 18 days at its fastest (2.5 weeks)
- 254 days at its longest (9 months)
Is there anything all habits have in common?
The more you do it, the harder it will be to stop. No habit is impossible to break.
What are the steps of forming a habit?
There are 3 big ones:
- The cue: the trigger or event that causes the habit to happen
- The behavior: the thing you actually do
- The reward: The positive feeling you get from the behavior
How do you make or break a habit?
It’s hard! Simple activities like drinking a glass of water before bed may become a habit in 2 weeks. Complex ones like getting up in the morning and going to the gym will take months or more. By and large, the easiest way to break or make a habit is to follow these steps:
1. Have the desire
If you don’t truly care about breaking or making a habit, you probably won’t succeed. This is why it’s very hard to help someone with a habit they’re not ready or motivated to change.
2. Tell people about it
Accountability is key, so ask the people you trust in your life to help keep you on track. It’s harder to quit marathon training or start smoking again if people know your goal. Tracking your actions is also a great motivator.
3. Avoid the triggers
If you’re trying to break a habit, control your environment so you don’t encounter the cue that leads you to do it. This is why someone struggling with addiction, for example, may not go to bars — stopping the cue can help stop the behavior.
4. Be specific
In the same way you’re more likely to achieve goals if they are specific and measurable, you’re more likely to break or make habits. Say clearly what you will do and when. For example:
- Say: “I will cut the amount of cigarettes I smoke at work each day in half” rather than “I’m going to quit smoking.”
- Say: “I will exercise for 30 minutes on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays” rather than “I’m going to get in shape.”
5. Know it gets easier with time
It takes a lot longer than most people think to make or break a habit. When you’re struggling, remind yourself of a past success you’ve had making or breaking a habit, and know that everything gets easier with time.