How long does it really take to break a habit?
Feeling frustrated and wondering why you haven’t been able to kick an old habit? Relax - it takes longer than you think.
Daily habits can be useful and they help to create order in an otherwise busy day.
But chances are you may have one or two annoying habits - or perhaps even one that is harmful to your health and wellbeing.
If you’ve been trying to beat an old habit and haven’t been successful, you may be wondering how long it should really take to kick it for good.
Consider the 21-day rule, whose roots go back to the 1960s pop psychology book Psycho-Cybernatics. This book says it takes a minimum of 21 days for an old mental image to dissolve and a new one to gel.
More recently, a study of 96 people published in The European Journal of Social Psychology found it took on average 66 days to form a habit, such as eating fruit at lunch or running for 15 minutes a day. But in the study, the actual number of days ranged from 18 to 254 days - indicating that it can take a very short or a very long time!
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Changing habits takes time
The truth is, there’s no guaranteed time to beat a habit.
And having a number in mind as an end point makes it easier to feel like a failure if you can’t break your habit during this time.
Habits are meant to be difficult to change. Habits are formed out of repetitive actions or behaviours that eventually slip into your daily routines without any thought.
It helps to have your brain on autopilot for repetitive activities as it means you are more likely to focus on other new activities that pop up during the day.
But that’s not bad news. That’s why breaking a bad habit is worth the effort. Even though there is no magic number of days it takes to beat a habit, once you have broken it, it’s unlikely you will find yourself slipping back.
An addiction or a habit?
You may need to consider whether you’re trying to beat a habit or an addiction.
Knowing the difference can save you a lot of time and frustration. Addictive habits such as smoking, gambling or drinking alcohol are harder to break.
The best way to tell them apart is to ask yourself some simple questions.
“Can I live without this habit and, if I break the habit, will it cause any physical changes to my body?”
When stopping an addictive habit, your body could experience noticeable physiological withdrawal symptoms such as shaking, sweating or nausea and vomiting.
Non-addictive habits can be easier to change - while addictions will take longer and may require professional help.
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How will you know you time has come?
has indicated habits are an automatic response to your surroundings from repeating the same actions daily, there is no magic number for how long it takes to change an action.
You will know you have beaten a habit when you have to think about doing it.
Try something new for 30 days
Is there something you've always meant to do, wanted to do, but just ... haven't? Matt Cutts suggests: Try it for 30 days.
Check out his TED talk for a new way to think about setting and achieving goals.
Tell us....what's the one thing you have always wanted to do....and will do for the next 30 days?