How Long Does It REALLY Take to Build a New Habit?

This is the fourth post in a series of five. You can find the third post here and the fifth post here.

People are habitual creatures. They take the same route to and from work each day. Their morning rituals are identical from one day to the next. Their grooming routine never changes, they dress and undress in a particular, repetitious fashion, and these actions have become unconscious habits. This is true with everyone, which begs the question…

How long does it take to make a new habit?

Consider that there are 7 billion different people walking the planet. As you can imagine, this means not everyone will act or behave the same way, and what works for someone may not work for others. Given the unique nature of individual humans, there is nonetheless plenty of scientific proof that if you want to break and old habit and/or develop a new one, there is a specific amount of time you will need.

Habit Changing Proof from a Plastic Surgeon

Maxwell Maltz was a plastic surgeon in the 1950s. He noticed that, regardless the exact procedure, it took roughly 21 days for one of his patients to get used to the new face he helped create. He may have reworked a chin, smoothed out wrinkles, doctored a nose, but no matter the extent of his work, and the results, in 3 weeks the patient had accepted his or her new look.

This led Maltz to study his own behavior, and that of others, concerning behavioral change. Again and again he noticed a roughly 21 day cycle of change, across different individuals and different areas of change. He compiled his research in a bestselling 1960 book called Psycho-Cybernetics, which is still a stout seller today.

21st Century Research Yields New Answers

Fast-forward to current times. New research shows the time needed for lasting change is more like 66 days, on average. A 2009 study showed individual periods of time for habit change ranging from 18 days all the way up to 254 days. However, an average of 66 days was noted in the majority of cases.

This University College London research only used 96 test subjects, so the data pool is small. Even so, the time period claimed for habit making/breaking is a full 3 times that of Maltz’s beliefs. As it turns out, that may be a sign of the times.

In the 1950s, there were nowhere near the distractions and interruptions the normal person experiences today. You are attacked by a barrage of marketing messages, sensory input, and daily responsibilities that would boggle the minds of people living 60 years ago.

This means that it logically would take longer for new behaviors to break through to your busy mind and establish themselves as unconscious habits. In that new research, one person took 36 weeks to establish a new habit. The quickest path to change was a lightning-quick 18 days. On average, expect about 10 weeks to make a new habit, or break an old one.

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