Personal Development

How Long Does It Take To Break A Habit?

how long to break a habit

All of us have habits that get us through our daily routine. Some habits like brushing your teeth when you wake up every morning, or going to the gym daily are great.

However, others like smoking a pack of cigarettes daily, overeating, nail-biting, or overspending can be harmful to your health and overall well-being in the long run.

If you’ve been trying to break a bad habit without success, you may be wondering how long it will really take to kick it for good.

One of the popular claims is that it will only take you 21 days to break a bad habit or form a new healthy one. This number came from a 1960 self-improvement book (Psycho-Cybernetics) written by Maxwell Maltz, a cosmetic surgeon who noticed that his patients seemed to get used to their new faces after a period of 21 days.

However, according to a 2009 study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, the time it takes to form a new habit or break an old one isn’t that clear-cut.

The researchers in the study examined 96 individuals over a period of 12 weeks and found that it took them an average of 66 days to form a new habit like, running for 15 minutes daily or eating fruits daily. However, individual times varied widely from 18 days to a whopping 254 days.

Since habit forming and breaking are closely linked, this research indicates that there’s no guaranteed time frame to break an unwanted habit. How long you’ll take depends on a wide variety of factors.

Let’s look at some of them below:

How Much Do You Really Want To Break The Habit?

There are many people who want to lose weight but they still love and continue eating unhealthy foods.

They want to decrease their alcohol intake, but they still love their happy hour. If you fall in this group, ask yourself this question- what are the consequences of not breaking your bad habit.

Will you get sick?

Will you lose your job? Or, will you partner leave you if you don’t change?

How strongly you want to kick that bad habit will directly determine how much time you take to do so.

The Strength Of Your Motivation To Change

What is your motivation for wanting to quit smoking for instance? Is it because you want to live a healthy lifestyle, or because you want to please your parents or spouse?

People who want to stop their unwanted habits because of reasons that are aligned with their personal values are more likely to change faster than those who do so for external reasons (i.e. being pressurized by others).

The Availability Of An Alternative Habit

It is easier to begin doing something new than to quit something habitual without a replacement behavior. Therefore, to successfully break your bad habit, you need to find a positive alternative behavior to replace it.

Practice your new, healthy habit every day until it becomes a part of you.

It is important to note that the longer you’ve had a bad habit, the longer it will take you to get rid of it, so be patient with yourself as you make the necessary positive changes in your life.

It might not take place overnight or in 21 days, but if you stay strong, focused, positive and consistent, you’ll be able to break your bad habits. You can do it!

Sources: The New Psycho Cybernetics By Maxwell Maltz | How Are Habits Formed