How Long Does it Actually Take to Form a New Habit?
Maxwell Maltz was a famous cosmetic surgeon in the 1950s. He began to notice a strange pattern among his patients. When Maltz performed an operation on patients – for example, on correcting the nose – then he noticed that the patients took about 21 days to get used to the new face. And when the patient’s arm or leg was amputated, most patients felt phantom pains also for about 21 days, until they adjusted to the new situation. This experience made Maltz remember his personal experience of getting used to changes and new behavior. He realized that he also needed about 21 days to form a new habit. In 1960, Maltz published this quote and other thoughts on behavior change in a book called Psycho-Cybernetics. The book became a bestseller, and over 30 million copies were sold. So, from that moment the myth spread that for the creation of a new habit 21 days are necessary. The myth was very believable because only 21 days are necessary to change the life.
But the problem is that Maltz just watched what was happening around him, and did not state this as a fact. Moreover, he said that this is the “minimum amount of time” that was necessary for a person to adapt to new changes. So what is the correct answer? How many days do we need to learn a new habit? Phillippa Lally, a researcher in the health psychology at University College London published a study in European Journal of Social Psychology about how long it takes to form a new habit. The study examined the habits of 96 people, and the study itself lasted for 12 weeks (84 days). During the study, participants chose themselves out of habit, which they planned to form during the specified period. Some of the participants chose simple habits, such as “drinking a bottle of water at dinner.” Others chose more complex tasks, such as “regular 15-minute jogging before dinner.” At the end of the 12th week, scientists analyzed the data to determine how much time each person needed to go from the beginning of the formation of a new behavior to the automation of this process.
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On an average, for participants who provided sufficient data, habit formation took 66 days. Of course, figures can vary according to the nature of the person and the circumstances. For example, those who simply had to drink a glass of water after breakfast reached the maximum automatism in about 20 days.
Those who got used to eating fruit at dinner required at least twice as much time to create a habit.
Sometimes it can take a whole year.
The conclusion of the Lally’s study is “it takes 18 to 254 days to form a habit.”
At the end it does not matter how many days you need to learn a new habit, you will do it one way or another.