From spending 10 minutes on meditation first thing every morning to hitting the gym three times a week, mostly we strive to create habits that enhance our health, wellbeing and productivity.
One of the best habits I introduced into my life was exercising every day; I’ve now been doing it for more than three years. It’s become so automatic it’s like brushing my teeth!
But how long does it actually take for the new action to become ingrained in our routine, to become habitual? Are you giving up too soon trying to make a habit stick because it just doesn’t seem to be happening fast enough?
The truth is, you need to set realistic expectations, it can take you anywhere from a few weeks to almost a year for a new behaviour to become a habit.
21 Days To Form A Habit… is it a myth?
You’ve probably heard that it takes 21 days to form a habit. That theory started with a surgeon in the 1950’s called John Maxwell. He found when he was doing surgery – plastic surgery and amputations – it took these patients around three weeks to get adjusted to the change in their body.
He wrote about it and his observations spread like wildfire and went viral back in the 1950s. It became like a game of whispers and the end result was the notion that it takes 21 days to form a habit.
What John Maxwell actually said was a little different though, he said it requires around a minimum of around 21 days.
I’m pointing this out because you may be basing your habit forming success or failure on the 21 days ‘rule’ and feel disheartened if you haven’t nailed your new habit in that time frame. The truth is, asking how long does it take to form a habit is like asking how long is a piece of string. It could be any time, any length.
How are you forming the habit?
The time it takes to form a habit is different for each person because it depends on what the habit is and what steps you’re taking to create the habit.
Are you doing all the right things to form a habit? How committed are you to this habit? How focused are you on it? How much do you really want it?
Your habit forming depends on all those types of variables. That’s why there’s no magic number of days in which you’ll form a rock solid habit.
To try and give you some time frame reference though – because I did say I’d tell you how long it takes! – let’s look at a study from the European Journal of Social Psychology. The study was done by Phillippa Lally and she found that of the group that participated some people took as little as 18 days, and some people took as long as 254 days to form a new habit.
That’s quite a big variance and it depends on all those things I pointed out earlier. You can’t get disheartened if a habit isn’t sticking as quickly as you’d like it to, you just have to really find what’s right for you.
When I was forming the habit of exercising every day – I’m now at over two years of exercising every single day – it came from following a very set process.
My original goal was actually to exercise every day for 30 days. After 30 days, I thought “I can do this, I can do it a bit longer.”
But for it to become a real habit, something automatic like brushing my teeth, it probably took about 6 months.
I just kept doing it, kept following the process to form it a habit, to make sure exercise happened every single day. Now, I can’t miss it. It’s literally like brushing my teeth, I can’t go to bed before I’ve done my workout.
Don’t always focus on the end goal
The reason I don’t know exactly when exercise became a habit is because I didn’t always focus on the end goal. I didn’t say to myself every morning I’m going to exercise every day for 365 days. Instead, I just focused on integrating it into my life, one day at a time.
I encourage you to do the same with whatever habit you’re trying to form, take it a day at a time rather than expecting to have it sorted by a certain date.
I hope this gives a little insight into the misunderstanding around the whole 21 days to form a habit ‘rule’ and why you shouldn’t be disheartened if it takes you longer.
Nothing is wrong if it takes longer, stick with it and don’t give up!
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