How Long Does it Take to Form a Habit?
One of the most important things you can do for your health, happiness, and productivity is to form good habits. But how long does it take to form a habit? This article will cover what a habit is, the science behind forming them, and provide tips on how to make new habits stick. It will also include examples of healthy habits that will help improve your life in major ways!
What is a habit?
A habit is a behavior done with little to no conscious effort .
A famous example of this phenomenon was in 2006 when a team from University College London scanned the brains of people while they were learning how to play video games. After only five days, their neural pathways had already begun changing! This study found that it takes an average of 66 days for habits to form. There is a widely held belief that it takes 21 days to break a habit. However, this is not true .
The science of habits
A habit is formed by a neurological loop that consists of three parts:
Cue : This is the trigger for an automatic behavior to start. When you get into your car and turn on the ignition, this would be the cue that starts driving habits such as where you go or what radio station you listen to.
Routine : The routine is the actual behavior itself. It is the habit that you perform when triggered by the cue .
Reward : The reward is what your brain likes about doing this routine and wants to continue for more rewards in the future! This part of the loop makes sure that we repeat behaviors again and again, even if it's not really necessary or helpful.
How to form a habit
The first step to forming a new habit is identifying the cue.
The second step is the actual behaviour that you want to turn into a habit.
The third step is identifying the reward that your brain will get from performing this behaviour on cue .
For example, if you want to incorporate yoga in to your morning routine, your cue may be waking up early in the morning. Your routine would be rolling out your mat and practice yoga for thirty minutes. The reward is how good it makes you feel after!
Common excuses that prevent us from forming new habits
In his book Atomic Habits, James Clear shares that it's important to think of new habits in terms of systems instead of goals. When you break down your habit into the cue, routine and reward, you unlock a way for yourself to make progress on your goal without focusing too much on the endgame.
In order to make your new healthy habits last, you need strategies and techniques on how to overcome common excuses for not forming them in the first place.
- I'm too tired to exercise after work.
- Get your workout over with before you start the rest of your day! If it's difficult for you to wake up early, try going to bed 30 minutes earlier each night until you get yourself on a schedule that works best for your body. You'll thank yourself later when all those extra hours awake help you fall asleep faster at night .
- There isn't enough time in my day.
- Figure out what time of day is easiest for you and commit to getting it done then instead of waiting around until things slow down or settle down so much that it becomes nearly impossible. Try looking at ways to manage your time better by breaking long tasks into smaller steps if they seem overwhelming. If waking up earlier seems impossible to you, try going to bed 30 minutes earlier each night until it becomes a habit.
- I just don't have the willpower.
- This is where you can turn your attention to what actually matters, which are the results. If you're forming a new habit in order to become healthier, happier, or more productive, focus on those outcomes instead of beating yourself up over lapses in motivation.
For every day that you fall short of completing your desired outcome for each task within it's cue-routine-reward cycle, try doubling down by making it twice as important the next time around so that failure doesn't seem like an option anymore.
Why it's important to break bad habits as well as make new ones
If you're serious about trying to develop better health, happiness, or productivity in your life by forming positive habits, it is important that you also focus on breaking negative patterns. Breaking bad habits is equally as important as creating good ones. It's essential that you identify the cue, reward and routine. Once you do this with your negative habit, all that remains is learning how to make new behaviors stick by implementing similar strategies used when forming healthy habits.
If one of your goals in life is to break an unhealthy addiction or stop procrastinating on certain tasks, these techniques will be invaluable. One example of breaking a bad habit is to go for a walk when you experience the cue of stress or anxiety. Doing this will help increase your mental health by practicing mindfulness throughout the day, which can be rewarding in itself.
It is extremely difficult to eliminate a habit cold turkey. Instead of pushing yourself too hard and setting yourself up for failure again, try changing the routine instead so that the cue remains the same but the reward changes. For example, if before bedtime you find yourself scrolling through social media apps mindlessly without feeling any sense of accomplishment afterwards (cue), start putting away your phone 20 minutes before turning off all lights (routine) so that after walking over to turn them off with no distractions you can spend the last 20 minutes before bed feeling calm and relaxed (reward).
Good habits improve our lives in major ways: exercise makes us healthier; eating breakfast gives us energy; waking up early allows us to take advantage of extra time we have during the morning where nothing else is scheduled yet. Bad habits do exactly what they sound like - they're behaviors that harm your life instead of improving it such as smoking, lying, and overspending.
When it comes to habits, there are two sides. On one side of the fence is your bad habit that you have been trying to break for months or even years and on the other side, a new positive habit that has yet to be formed in its place.
Breaking old habits can seem like an impossible task but we hope that this article will help give you some ideas about what might work best for you in breaking those bad habits. Remember when making any changes to take time and make sure they align with your personal goals so as not to feel overwhelmed by all of the change at once. Good luck!