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How Long Does It Take to Form a Habit?

When you’re trying to learn new behavior, how long do you give yourself? Do you expect to become habituated after a few tries or do you believe it’ll take such a long time that you give up in despair before you even start? Here’s what one scientific study has to say about habit formation.

Most of us have heard and may even believe that it takes 21 days to form a habit. However, James Clear in “How Long Does It Actually Take to Form a New Habit (Backed by Science)” debunks that theory. In his 4/10/14 HuffPost Healthy Living article which can be found at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/james-clear/forming-new-habits_b_5104807.html?ncid=fcbklnkushpmg00000030, he tells us that there was never any science behind the “3 week” habit-formation principle—simply observations made by a plastic surgeon, Maxwell Maltz, about his patients’ recovery.

According to a University College London study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology examining habit changes of 96 people over 12 weeks, it seems that about 66 days are needed for habit formation—more than three times the accepted estimate. Granted, 96 people is not a large sampling, yet the study goes well beyond simple observation. Based on its findings, Clear says that “how long it takes a new habit to form can vary widely depending on the behavior, the person, and the circumstances” … “it took anywhere from 18 days to 254 days for people to form a new habit.” Clear notes that “even though the study only ran for 12 weeks, the researchers were able to use the data to estimate the longer timelines (like 254 days) to form habits.”

What does this mean for you? To answer, you’ll have to go back to the questions I posed at the beginning of this blog: Do you expect to become habituated after a few attempts to change behavior or do you believe it’ll take so long that you don’t even try? Certainly, having a realistic view of how long habituation takes is the first step toward successful healthy habit formation. If you look at the process as a snap, you’re not going to hang in there when change doesn’t occur quickly. If you look at it as a never-ending drag, you’re going to be counting the days and wishing they were over.

The best approach is to: recognize that learning takes time (time is going to pass anyway whether you’re working on self-improvement or not), have patience, forgo a quest for perfection, and mark your progress in baby steps. Read the study article and make sure you’re realistic about developing better eating, fitness, and self-care habits

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