How Long Does It Take to Change a Habit?

You want to change your ways:

  • You’ve decided to let go of your bad habit of aimless scrolling on Facebook. But you wonder, “How long is it going to take me to overcome my Facebook addiction?”
  • You look yourself in the mirror and you’re not proud of what you see; you have many extra pounds around your waist. You look yourself in the eyes and say, “it’s time to get back in shape.” Determined, you commit to developing the habit of exercising. But you wonder, “How long is it going to take before I don’t feel like throwing up every time I have to drag myself to the gym (i.e. when is it going to become automatic)?
  • etc.

The Habitual Questions

Many people ask a form of these questions:

  • How long will it take to break this bad habit?
  • How long will it take to form this good habit?

These are fair questions.

If the answer is 10 days, then you know you have to buckle up for 10 days, and then your struggle is over; you’ve been able to change your ways. If the answer is 20 days, then you persevere for 20 days, and then you’re home free.

I suppose having a timeframe can help you stay the course until you get to that D-day, day when you finally win the fight against a bad habit that was plaguing your life or when you finally form a good habit that had been eluding you.

The Real Answer

So what is the answer? How long does it take to change a habit? Is it 10 days? Is it 20 days? Is it 100 days? Some have suggested that it takes 21 days, others have suggested 28 days, others say 66 days, others even more.

So many answers.

Which one is it?

Here’s the real answer: “It depends…”

Habits are complex. Humans are complex. Breaking and forming habits is complex. There are many factors at play in this, and all those factors make it hazardous at best to try and set a blanket timeframe that applies to all people in all contexts.

So the real answer is: “It depends…”

It depends on your temperament. You have certain natural tendencies that make you more susceptible to adopt certain behavioral patterns. Thus, this affects the speed at which you can form and break habits.

It depends on the habit you’re trying to develop or get rid of. One habit will take you 24 days to form (or break), another 24 weeks, yet another 50 days.

It depends on your environment. Is your environment conducive to the development of your new habit? Does your environment nourish the bad habit you’re trying to break? For example, if you’re trying to develop healthy eating habits, but you work in a fast food restaurant, you may have a very hard time to develop those healthy eating habits.

It depends on your support system. For example, if you’re trying to form good saving habits, but your spouse isn’t on board, it will take you longer to form the new habits.

It depends on your current condition. For example, if you want to develop the habit of exercising 5 times a week, but you just gave birth, it will take you more time to get to exercising 5 times a week than if you were childless.

So many factors…

The Right Questions

As I said, “How long will it take?” is a fair question. But, is it the right question?

There is a better question. And that’s the right question: How important is it to you to change your habit? More specifically:

– How important is it to you to break that bad habit?
– How important is it to you to form that good habit?

In short, How bad to you want it?

If you want it bad enough, then “how long?” becomes irrelevant; you won’t relent until you get the result you’re after (no matter “how long it takes”).

It may take you 21 days as some have suggested, or it may take you 21 weeks, or whatever. If it took you 21 weeks to break the bad habit or form the new habit, you’re still better off than where you started; from that point on, your life will be changed because you paid the price to improve your habits. And in the process, you became a new person: a stronger and wiser person.

One thing for sure, the longer you wait to start, the longer it will take you; you’re wasting time waiting. You must start now, no matter how small your steps forward are.

The Point

If I tell you that breaking a bad habit or forming a good one will take you 30 days, you’ll expect that after 30 days, your life is changed. However, if after 30 days you’re still struggling, you’ll be led to believe that either I lied to you or that something is wrong with you or that the habit is too hard for you to develop (so why bother?). Either way, it doesn’t serve you.

Knowing “how long it will take” isn’t as critical as your commitment to improving your habits. Similarly, the number of times you fall on your journey isn’t as important as the number of times you get back up and continue to push forward. In fact, you may be at your fourth attempt to break a bad habit (or to form a good one). If making a change is important enough to you, no matter how long it takes, keep pushing until you get your desired result.