Habits can be an enormously powerful tool to reach our goals. Good, purposeful habits allow us to become successful at the things that are valuable and important to us. But likewise, bad habits have the power to drag us down.
That’s why it’s essential for each one of us to establish healthy habits that are purposeful and help us to progress in life.
For those who are not interested in reading the whole article, it takes about 59–66 days on average to turn a conscious behavior into an unconscious habit. But, the formation of a custom can range from 18 to 254 days depending on the complexity.
How long does it take to create a new habit?
On average, it takes about 59–66 days to create a new habit. But, the formation of a can range from 18 to 254 days. The more complex the habit is, the longer it’ll take.
How long does it take to establish a habit: studies
One particular study about the duration of habit formation managed in the United Kingdom analyzed how long it would take for adults to create a simple health habit.
All participants needed to choose a simple physical and dietary activity that they were not currently practicing in order to turn a new physical or dietary behavior into a habit.
They attempted to turn that behavior into a habit by cueing a single case during the day. For example, doing 50 sit-ups after morning coffee, walking for 10 minutes after breakfast, eating a piece of fruit with lunch, drinking a glass of water after breakfast and walking for ten minutes after breakfast.
The concluded the following:
On average it took 66 days before habits became automatic for participants.15
Although not significant, physical activity behaviors, which are arguably more complicated than eating or drinking around a meal time, took 1.5 times longer to become automatic than eating or drinking.
This illustrates that more complex combinations of behaviors required to prevent disease (routines) are likely to take considerably longer than the 66-day average found for the simple, single behaviors in this study.
In addition to the potential differences between the types of behavior, the time to form a habit varied considerably across individuals. In the same study, habit formation ranged from 18 to 254 days.15 Such variability makes it difficult to form expectations for how long it would take a patient to adopt a simple health behavior. This reinforces the importance of tailoring health advice and treatment expectations to each patient.17,18https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6378489/
Furthermore, the study notes that an important part of forming a routine is the need for consistent repetition of the behavior that one is trying to turn into a habit.
They also found that some people in the study took much longer to establish their habits. This raises the possibility that some people are more “habit-resistant” than others.
Critical to note is that not performing the behavior for one day did not have long-lasting negative effects on the time to establish a habit. This means that occasional non adherence to the program does not mean the end of the world.
Another randomized controlled trial about habit formation attempted to model the habit formation of an everyday nutrition behavior and analyzed if habit formation and plan performance are different when individuals plan to enact their behavior in response to a routine-based versus time-based cue.
192 adults participated in the study (age 18-77years) and were randomly assigned to a routine-based cue or a time-based cue intervention. They then selected an everyday nutrition behavior and linked it to a daily time cue or daily routine.
They concluded the following:
As indicated by asymptotic curves, it took a median of 59 days for participants who successfully formed habits to reach peak automaticity.
Group-level analyses revealed that both routine-based and time-based cue planning led to increases in automaticity and plan enactment, but no between-condition differences were found.
Repeated plan enactment was a key predictor for automaticity.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33405284/
We can conclude that how long it takes to build a particular habit depends on the complexity of the habit, the type of habit, and on the individual itself.
The two studies that I’ve examined found that 59–66 days is the average that was found in the studies for simple single behaviors. This means that depending on the complexity of the habit you’re trying to establish, it might take much longer.
We know that it takes about 59–66 days on average to make a new habit. But, the formation can range from 18 to 254 days depending on the complexness.
The main takeaway is that it is possible for everyone to form healthy, simple habits. And while it requires a conscious effort at first, over time, it will become less straining and mentally fatiguing because the habit will be performed unconsciously.
This unconscious process of carrying out our habits frees up valuable energy for our conscious mind. We can say that it’s in our own best interest to constitute healthy, purposeful habits.