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How long does it really take to create a new habit?

Updated: Sep 17, 2020

When I start talking about habit creation, one of the first questions people always ask is “so how long does it really take?” The honest answer has to do with the length of a piece of string. It depends on too many variables to give a precise number.

In the 1960s a long-standing myth was created that it takes 21 days. Wouldn’t that be nice? Unfortunately, it’s just that, a myth. If you’re interested in how this myth came about, here’s the link. I’m going to concentrate on answering the question with what we know now.

What does habit creation depend upon?

How easy and how quick it is to develop a new habit depends on a variety of things including:

  • What the habit is

  • How easy the habit is

  • How well it fits into your current behaviour

  • Your personality type (do you like routine or not)

  • Your environment (incl. friends and family)

  • And more

A seemingly simply habit such as eating one more serving of fruit or veg per day can become difficult when the rest of your family insists on junk food and take-outs for all of their meals and you haven’t touched much fruit or veg either up until now.

A much more difficult habit of going running three times per week is made a lot easier when your partner already runs regularly, you live in an area with little traffic and lots of paths and you have some spare time readily available.

Is there some research about this?

According to research carried out in 2009 by a team at the University College London, the time it takes to create a new habit ranges from 18 to 254 days. To put it another way from under 3 weeks to over 8 months with an average of 66 days, so just over 2 months. The participants chose their own habits which ranged from drinking an additional glass of water to doing 50 sit-ups after coffee in the morning. During the study, the participants logged on to a website each day and reported if they performed the habit and how easy it was, how automatic it was becoming.

Once a habit is automatic, it has been created. Once you don’t have to think about doing it anymore, once it becomes habitual, willpower is no longer needed and you’re on your way.

So, yes, unfortunately there is no easy answer to how long it takes. But if the habit is worth creating, if it’s a good habit, then it is worth making the commitment and sticking with it.

If you'd like to go deeper, I highly recommend this book by James Clear "Atomic Habits". It breaks down the process of habit creation into small steps and suggests easily manageable changes to each step into order to create success.

How can I help?

If you’d like some help around creating new habits, please get in touch. Alternatively you can sign up to my weekly newsletter which is packed full of advice around productivity and time management and of course creating habits.

So, which habit are you going to create?


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