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.