It Takes 66 Days To Form A Habit

There’s been quite a bit of talk recent­ly about habits — how to form them and how to break them. A lot of this has been due to the pub­li­ca­tion of Charles Duhig­g’s book — The Pow­er of Habit, pre­ced­ed by the buzz gen­er­at­ed after a colum­nist from Forbes wrote the provoca­tive­ly titled post — How Tar­get fig­ured out a teen girl was preg­nant before her father did (based on Duhig­g’s arti­cle on how com­pa­nies mine your data in the New York Times).

I’ve also tak­en an increased inter­est recent­ly in the pow­er of habits and dis­cov­ered that smart­phone apps are very use­ful for help­ing track habit devel­op­ment. As I’ve begun to more reg­u­lar­ly use one such app to devel­op and break/change some habits, I thought it would be worth­while to check and see what  google has to say about how long it takes to devel­op or break a habit.

My under­stand­ing from the many ref­er­ences that I’ve come across over a life­time had led me to believe that you can pret­ty much devel­op or break any habit in 30 days (30 day tri­als, change your life in 30 days etc.). So, I was sur­prised to read about research on habit devel­op­ment (appar­ent­ly the first of its kind) car­ried out by a team at Uni­ver­si­ty Col­lege Lon­don in 2009 which shows that it takes an aver­age of 66 days for a behav­iour or action to become so auto­mat­ic as to be con­sid­ered habit­u­al. (66 days does­n’t have quite the same ring to it as 30 days).

What this means in real­i­ty for your New Year’s res­o­lu­tion is that by the 2nd week of March (assum­ing you’re engag­ing in the desired behav­iour dai­ly since the begin­ning of the year), you can start to feel con­fi­dent in not hav­ing to con­scious­ly remem­ber to — eat more veg­eta­bles, floss, med­i­tate, etc.

Some oth­er find­ings from this research:

- it’s eas­i­er to estab­lish food or drink relat­ed habits than exer­cise relat­ed habits

- miss­ing a day from time to time while try­ing to estab­lish a habit is not a deal break­er

- it’s more dif­fi­cult to break habits than it is to estab­lish new ones

- more com­plex behav­iours take longer to become habit­u­al

While the research only looked at adding a healthy eat­ing, drink­ing or exer­cise relat­ed behav­iour, I take com­fort in the fact that it does take this long for these behav­iours to become auto­mat­ic, since this aligns more close­ly with my own expe­ri­ence. On the oth­er hand, it is a bit of a real­i­ty check about how chal­leng­ing habit for­ma­tion can be and rein­forces the mes­sage that per­se­ver­ance is key.

How does this match with your own expe­ri­ence? What habits have you found most easy to devel­op and sim­i­lar­ly those you’ve found near­ly impos­si­ble to break. What’s been help­ful for you? I’d love to hear.

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