How Long Does It Take to Build a Habit?

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Habits play an important part in health and well-being. Creating new habits can help you boost your health and achieve your goals. However, building lasting habits takes effort and time. How long does it take to build a habit?

According to some research, it takes anywhere from 18 to 254 days to form a new habit. The same research indicates that it takes an average of 66 days for a habit to become truly automatic.

The good news is that even if it takes longer than average to build a new habit, you can still be successful as long as you stay consistent and committed. So don't get discouraged if you don't succeed right away.

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What Is a Habit?

To understand how long it takes to build a habit, it's important to understand exactly what habits are and why they are important. 

In everyday language, habits are used to describe frequent behaviors that tend to happen on a regular, predictable basis. Habits are essentially regularly repeated behaviors that happen almost automatically, with little to no thought.

Researchers suggest that habits can be defined as actions that are automatically triggered by associated contextual cues. An example of this is getting into a car (the contextual cue) and then buckling up your seatbelt (the habit).

In other words, habits are things we do regularly without much thought or effort. They're often automatic behaviors that we've learned over time through repetition and practice.

Most of our daily activities are made up of habits, from brushing our teeth to driving to work. While some habits are helpful and can improve our lives, others may be harmful and can cause problems.

Smoking is an example of a harmful habit that can lead to serious health consequences. Regular exercise, on the other hand, is an example of a healthy habit that can improve health and longevity.

Habits can be a positive or detrimental force in your life, but they can take time to build. And once a habit is formed, some habits can be very difficult to break.

How Long Does It Take to Form a Habit?

According to one study, habit formation increased considerably over the course of three months. This effect was strongest for people who stuck to consistently performing the goal behavior during that time.

Individual differences help explain why some people form habits faster than others.  While individual differences play an important role, it is also important to recognize that environmental factors and circumstances can also impact habits. People who have more time to devote to developing a habit, for example, will be able to do so much more quickly. 

So how long will it take you to build a new habit? It depends on several different factors, including:

Your Personality

Some people may be better able to form new habits because they have certain personality traits or tendencies that help them learn and adopt new behaviors more easily.

For example, if you're highly organized and conscientious, you may find it easier to build healthy habits like practicing mindfulness or eating a balanced diet.

The Specific Behavior

Not all habits are created equal. Some habits can be formed more quickly than others depending on the behavior in question. 

The more complex behavior is, the longer it will take for it to become a habit.

For example, it's easier to make drinking more water a habit than it is to make exercising regularly a habit. Drinking water is faster, simpler, and requires less mental and physical effort. Exercise, on the other hand, takes time, planning, motivation, and physical effort.

Your Lifestyle and Circumstances 

Aspects of your current lifestyle and circumstances can have a significant impact on how long it takes to build a habit. For example, if you're a working parent with little free time, building healthy eating or exercise habits may take longer than average.

Recap

How long it takes you to build a habit will vary depending on your personality, your goals, and your circumstances. While you might not reach your goal right away, taking steps each day will bring you closer to building a lasting habit.

The Benefits of Forming Habits

Despite the time and effort that it takes, there are many benefits of forming healthy habits. One major benefit of building a habit is that the behavior tends to persist even if the initial conscious motivation to engage in the behavior has faded.

Reduce Mental Effort

According to Dr. Nora Volkow of the National Institute of Mental Health, automatic behaviors free up the brain to focus on other things. Instead of demanding a lot of conscious thought to keep performing the activity, habits allow them to become almost automated.

Habits can make performing activities easier, helping to streamline your daily life and routines. For example, getting in the habit of choosing your clothes for the next day can help minimize chaos and speed up your routine as you are getting ready for work each morning.

Protect Well-Being

Good habits can help improve health and protect well-being. Habits such as exercising regularly, eating a nutritious diet, and engaging in stress management strategies can help protect our mental and physical health. Such habits can also build resilience in the face of life's challenges.

Help With Goal Attainment

Healthy habits can also help you achieve your goals. For example, getting in the habit of going for a jog each morning before work can be a step toward meeting your fitness-related goals. Or creating a habit of winding down from the day by reading a certain number of pages in a book can help you achieve your reading goals.

Whatever your goals may be, whether they are related to fitness, school, work, or some other area, creating a habit can put you on a path toward success.

No matter how long it takes to build a habit, whether its a few weeks or a few months, the rewards are well worth the time and effort. Focus on sticking with it and staying motivated until the habit is well-established so that you can benefit from the rewards that come from establishing healthy routines and behaviors.

Examples of Successful Habits

The habits that are right for you are those that support your health, goals, and well-being. These habits don't hold you back from living your best life, and instead, allow you to live your life fully and happily.

Examples of habits that can help set you up for success include:

  • Eating a balanced diet: A healthy diet is important for overall physical and mental health. Eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein can help boost energy levels, maintain a healthy weight, and protect against chronic diseases.
  • Exercising regularly: It's no secret that exercise is good for your physical health, but evidence also suggests that it has important mental health benefits as well. Making it a habit can improve your physical health and promote lower stress, better mood, and better sleep. 
  • Practicing mindfulness: Mindfulness is a form of meditation that involves focusing on the present moment and letting go of thoughts and worries about the past or future. Research suggests that it may help reduce stress, improve memory, and even strengthen relationships. Spending just a few minutes a day is a great way to make this mind-body technique a regular habit.
  • Build social support: Having a strong social support system and meaningful relationships are important for mental health. Habits such as spending time with friends, participating in social activities, and checking in with the people you care about can help strengthen these essential social connections.  
  • Practicing gratitude: Gratitude is all about being thankful and appreciative of the good things in your life, and research has found that it can have a number of important health benefits. For this reason, it can be helpful to get into the habit of writing down a few things you are grateful for each night in a gratitude journal.

Whether it's cultivating healthy eating habits, exercising regularly, or finding new ways to build happiness and joy in your life, many different habits can lead to success. 

Tips for Building New Habits

Eventually, habit-formation reaches a point that researchers refer to as the "stability phase." At this point, the habit is established, and it has reached its peak strength. As a result, the behavior will persist without only minimal conscious thought or effort.

If you want to build a new habit and eventually make it to that stability phase, it takes some time and persistence. Fortunately, there are a number of strategies you can use to improve your chances of success. 

Set Specific, Realistic Goals

Instead of establishing a habit that is a radical shift in your typical behavior, focus on starting with some that are smaller and more realistic. For example, instead of trying to run five miles a day, you might start with running a half-mile each morning and gradually working your way up. 

By setting manageable goals, you'll be more likely to stick with your habit-building efforts over the long term.

Stay Motivated and Focused

It can sometimes be challenging to stay motivated when building a new habit, especially if progress seems slow or setbacks occur. You might find it helpful to explore different ways of staying focused on what you hope to achieve. Utilize strategies such as positive reinforcement or visualization to stay inspired, and boost your persistence.

Enlist Support 

Get support from friends, family, or your wider community. Sometimes having a support system in place can make it easier to build new habits over time. 

For example, research has found that social support can positively impact health-related behaviors. Joining a social group or enlisting the help of friends can help you stick to your health goals such as exercising, quitting smoking, or exercising regularly.

Whether this means asking a friend or loved one to join you on your fitness journey or simply sharing your goals with others, having supportive people in our lives can help us stay on track when times get tough.

Recap

If you want to build healthy habits in your life, it's essential to start with some key tips that can help you succeed. These might include setting specific goals that are realistic and manageable, staying motivated and focused despite setbacks or challenges, and enlisting the support of others who can encourage and inspire you along the way.

How to Break a Bad Habit

One of the most challenging aspects of breaking a bad habit is staying motivated and committed over the long term. This often involves taking concrete steps to build new routines and behaviors and setting goals that are specific, measurable, and achievable.

Some tips for breaking a bad habit include:

Establish Your Intentions 

Just as with building a habit, it is important to be specific. Instead of saying you want to drop a bad habit, identify exactly what it is you want to change. If your habit is to put certain tasks off until the last minute, set a goal that you will work on them for a set amount of time each day. 

Create Positive Habits

Once you've identified your goal, it can be helpful to build positive habits in other areas of your life as well. Factors such as emotion, attention, and motivation all influence willpower and play a role in how easily and consistently people stick with behavior over the long term.

Building positive habits in different areas of your life may help you become better at sticking with a new behavior long enough for it to become a habit.

Give It Time

It's important to remind yourself that change won't happen overnight. Breaking a bad habit takes time and there are bound to be obstacles and setbacks along the way. Being persistent and sticking with it despite the difficulties you face is what will ultimately lead to success.  

Recap

Bad habits can be difficult to break, but it's possible to do so with some planning and effort. Start by setting a clear goal or intention, then build positive habits in other areas of your life to help support your efforts. Be patient and persistent, and remember that there may be setbacks along the way. With time and commitment, you can break your bad habit and open up new possibilities for yourself.

A Word From Verywell

As a general rule of thumb, set a goal to spend around three months building a new habit. The average time it takes most people to form habits falls within this range, but you should also be aware that it may happen faster or take longer for you.

No matter how long it takes you to build a new habit, staying consistent, focused, and committed is most important. If you keep working at it over time, you'll gradually build more and more positive habits that will help improve your health, happiness, and overall well-being.

7 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Kendra Cherry
Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author and educational consultant focused on helping students learn about psychology.