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How Long Does It Take To Form A Habit?

December 29, 2020

It’s that time of year again. Time to talk about resolutions and changes we’d like to make. But resolving to do something and making it stick isn’t always easy because of the time it takes. So, the first step is asking yourself “How long does it take to form a habit?” and having a good strategy to form it.

According to U.S. News & World Report, the failure rate for New Year's resolutions is said to be about 80%, and most people lose their resolve by mid-February. In fact, a study conducted by the University of Scranton found that just 8% of people achieve their New Year’s goals. A lack of motivation and unrealistic expectations are typically to blame.

Since roughly 55% of New Year’s resolutions are health-related, we want to set you up to win. It’s all about taking your resolve and turning it into a habit. So, how long does it take to form a habit? Let’s find out.

Habit Formation Process — Not 21 Days

Contrary to popular belief, it typically takes a lot longer than 21 days to form a habit — good or bad. Scientists say it’s too short of a time period for the neuropathways in your brain to form the habit-friendly patterns in your brain for the new behavior you’re trying to embrace. According to PsyBlog, that number came out of a study done on how long it took amputees to adjust to the loss of a limb. Not only was that research published in 1960, it didn’t really examine habits, but rather adaptation to a life-changing event.

It Takes An Average of 66 Days To Form A Habit

The most concrete evidence we have on the time it takes to form a new habit is from a study done in 2009. It was published in the European Journal of Social Psychology by Phillippa Lally and colleagues from University College London.

Lally and his team studied 96 people. They found that although the average time for people to form a habit was 66 days, there was marked variation in how long habits took to form. They concluded that it can take anywhere from 18 to 254 days to form a habit.

But a lot of it depends on the habit you’re trying to form.

Simple Habits Are Easy To Form

The type of habit that you can form in as little as 18 days would be something like drinking a glass of water every day. Lally’s research found that this is something that can become automatic very quickly. But doing 50 sit-ups before breakfast required more dedication. In other words, the time it takes you to form your habit will ultimately depend on the habit itself.

What You Can Do

Writing goals down can help you to achieve them because it feels like more of a commitment.

Harvard researchers also add that answering five specific questions can give you a push in the right direction when it comes to sticking to New Year’s resolutions (and forming good habits).

The questions are:

  • Why do you want to make the change?
  • Is your goal concrete and measurable?
  • What is your plan?
  • Who can support you as you work toward change?
  • How will you celebrate your victories?
Dr. Craft-Portion Sizes

Another good habit to get into is getting regular health screenings and knowing your numbers. Your cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar and body weight numbers all can contribute to your risk for developing a serious illness. Download our guide today.

Know Your Numbers