You might have heard that it takes 21 days to form a new habit but as it turns out, that is not accurate. The idea that it takes 21 days to form or break a habit was presented first in the 1960s but there isn’t much evidence to support the claim.
In a study published in 2009 in the European Journal of Social Psychology, however, showed that on average, it takes 66 days to form a new habit. A newer study published in 2021 also supports that finding. The study, published in the British Psychological Society found that it can take an average of 59 to 70 days to form a new habit.
Besides the length of time, habit formation also depends on the type of habit you are trying to form or break. Some habits have been shown to be easier to adapt than others. Another factor, of course, is the individual person.
Some other factors that help you form a habit quicker include incentives and being either monitored or held accountable by another person. And some habits are simply not enjoyable even though they’re beneficial. Those habits take much longer to form.
When it comes to breaking bad habits, it can actually take much longer than the average time to form a new habit.
Habit vs Addiction
When does a bad habit cross over to being an addiction?
The American Society of Addiction Medicine defines addiction as, “a treatable, chronic medical disease involving complex interactions among brain circuits, genetics, the environment, and an individual’s life experiences. People with addiction use substances or engage in behaviors that become compulsive and often continue despite harmful consequences.”
If your habit is so compulsive, harmful, and difficult to break, then it might be considered an addiction.
Stephanie Gilbert, a licensed marriage and family therapist, makes the following distinction between habit and addiction: “A habit is a behavior you do with some regularity, and if taken away you might miss, but can fairly easily wait until the next time you can engage in the behavior. An addiction is a behavior you do because you feel like you have to and there are chemical reactions happening in the brain that make that need real.”
Tips to Help You Form a New Habit
According to PsychCentral, these 5 tips help you form a new habit:
1. Start Small- Set smaller goals and build on them
2. Break down your goal into simple steps- A big goal can be intimidating, so break it down to smaller parts
3. Travel the journey with someone- Another person can provide support and accountability
4. Set aside some time everyday- Use reminders, alarms, calendars, anything that can help to carve out some time everyday for your new habit
5. Reward yourself- Don’t forget to treat yourself for achieving your goals small and big
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