Every year you make resolutions to stick to with the hope that they will bring a good and healthy change in your life. Your life is a paradigm of your habits. Your habits dictate what you do in your daily life. Are you in shape or out of shape? Are you eating healthy or junk? Or, are you a successful person? All of these questions are answered by the type of habits you have. Your habits influence your life every day. So the question you may ask yourself is how do I change my habit? And how long does it take to form a habit?

Your habits determine your persona, the things you believe in, and your life goals. They help you execute your goals and take action to achieve something in life. Your habits help you determine the purpose of your life. They guide your everyday life helping you pave your way forward.

What you repeatedly do every day, makes you who you are. Getting through your life every day requires some changes in your behavior and your habits. Every one of us wants to have good habits, habits that will help us stay healthy, fit, and successful. You want to sleep early, eat healthy, and get good grades to be successful in life. All of these can be achieved by changing your habits and lifestyle. By sticking to your good habits you will certainly achieve what you want in your life.

How long does it really take to form a habit according to psychology

According to a popular belief, it takes about 21 days to form a habit. But guess what scientists have proved it wrong. According to scientists, it is quite a short time for the neuro-pathways in your brain to form patterns that are friendly to the new habit you are trying to adapt to.

Research done in 2009 says that it takes 18 to 254 days for a person to form a new habit. On average it takes about 66 days to form a new habit and commit to it for life long. Moreover, the study that was done in 2009 also states that it is the habit in question that decides how many days it will take to fully establish and automate itself in a person. Certain habits take longer to form. For example, it is easier to form a habit of drinking a glass of water before breakfast than to exercise daily.  

A recent study shows that the 21 days habit formation formulation is completely wrong and in fact a myth. According to psychology researcher Phillippa Lally, it takes more than 21 days to form a habit, 66 days precisely, and about as long as 254 days.

Brain anatomy of habit formation

The question is what part of the brain control habits? Well, neuroscientists have linked your habit formation ability to a part of your brain called the basal ganglia. The basal ganglion is a collection of neurons found in the midbrain. The basal ganglia is also responsible for emotional development, pattern recognition, and memory. 

Another part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex, found in the frontal lobe is responsible for decision-making. Studies indicate that habits become automated once the prefrontal cortex is overtaken by the basal ganglia sending the prefrontal cortex into a sleep mode. This is the most important requisite for habit formation.

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How Are New Habits Formed? Habit formation according to science

Let’s discuss James Clear’s model for habit formation that he described in his book Anatomic habits. He discussed a four-step pattern of habit formation mostly described as the feedback loop. These four steps form the formula for every habit and your brain programs itself to run through these 4 steps in the same order every time.

Cue

The first step is the cue. The cue acts as a trigger to your brain helping your brain to initiate the behavior. They may not always be obvious and your brain consciously or unconsciously reacts to these cues. For example, you go to your kitchen to eat something. What initiated your brain to perform this task? There was obviously some kind of a cue that directed your behavior. In this case, it was the feeling of hunger that worked as your cue.

Craving

The 2nd step in Clear’s model is the craving. Cravings are the motivational force or the driving force behind every habit. They act as your desire or motivation to change that gives you a reason to act. For example, you have no desire of eating healthily. Rather, you are motivated by the healthy effect it will have on your body. You have no desire to take a bath. But, in fact, you desire of a clean body. According to Clear, cues are meaningless unless they are transformed into cravings. Cravings are what drive your behavior and can make or break your habit.

Response

Response is the 3rd step of the habit loop. It is the action that you perform as an answer to your cravings. It construes the actual habit that you are trying to achieve. However, response depends upon your ability to perform the task as well as the driving force or motivation you have for that task. You have to repeat the response to form a habit. If you enjoy what you are doing then that response is most likely to be repeated. However, if the amount of friction is making it more difficult for you to repeat the action, you are bound to drop the action and thus the habit.

Reward

The final step is the reward. Rewards are the endpoint or the ultimate goal of every habit. Once you observe your behavior closely, you will come to terms that it is the reward that you were trying to chase all along. The cue helps you notice the reward. Cravings are the desire of getting a reward. Response is the behavior or action that will help you obtain the reward. Rewarding yourself for the behavior or habit you are trying to achieve will help you succeed. It gives you a sense of satisfaction. Moreover, it increases the odds of repeating the same old behavior in the future by manifolds.

Tricks to Form a New Habit and Stick to It

The question is how do you develop a new habit? Well, to develop a new habit and to stick to it you have to commit fully and unconditionally to that habit alone. Start with small easy steps that will help you build up your habit in an incremental way. Once you take these easy and small steps, you will become much more adaptable to the new habit that you are trying to form.

1. Commit to the Habit You Are Trying to Achieve

Do you want to lose weight? Do you want to start eating healthy? Want to start exercising daily? Well, the key is to commit to the change that you are trying to achieve. Make sure you have the right mindset required in this case. Direct your thoughts and actions towards building the particular habit you want to ingrain in yourself.

Commit for a minimum of 30 days. Since it has already been said that 21 days is too short a time to fully form a habit, whereas 66 days is the time span that can guarantee you success. Well, these 30 days can act as the initial conditioning phase. Once you pass through this conditioning phase you can easily sustain and persist in the behavior you are trying to change or achieve.

However, you should also bear in your mind that the time period required to form a habit depends upon the habit in question and your ability to adapt to this change. So, instead of not even trying in the first place, book your next 30 days. Avail these 30 days solely to develop the habit. Ultimately, it will help you succeed and program your brain to the habit you are trying to achieve.

2. Focus on One Habit At a Time to Form a New Habit

Your ability to form a habit is impacted greatly because you want to do so many things at a time. It will divide your attention, mental and physical capacity and will deplete it to the point where there will be nothing left except chaos and stress. This way your willpower will be exhausted in no time rendering you unable to focus and achieve what you want in life.

It has been proven that multitasking is detrimental to your brain. It affects your mental capacity. Also, multitasking divides your focus among the different activities or habits that you are trying to get done. Additionally, it may seem that multi-tasking is helping you get a lot of things done but the reality is quite opposite. Contrary to it, focusing on too many things at the same time will cut down on your productivity range.

So, instead of cramming things up and jumping here and there to do so many things in a short period of time. Identify one habit and learn about it. Do whatever it takes, ingrain it in your head. Start thinking like an expert regarding that habit. Do a deep study and start channeling your willpower to incorporate the habit into your life. Think about how to fit that habit into your life on a daily basis. By following these steps, you are more likely to be successful.

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3. How to Form a Habit – Take Baby Steps

Well, to form a habit and make it permanent you need to take small steps. This will help you adapt to the habit, helping you adjust to the change. This practice will ultimately guide you to fully commit to the new habit you are trying to incorporate into your mind, soul, and body. Taking small baby steps in the right direction will not let you falter and will save you from the danger of draining your energy without achieving anything.

Let’s say you want to form a new habit like doing cardio daily. You can simply start by walking for just 10 minutes a day. It will help you adapt your body to the new change you are trying to make, making it easier for you to accomplish a small part of the habit you are trying to develop. Let’s look at another example, you are trying to wake up early each day. You can make a small commitment with yourself such as try to wake up 10 minutes earlier than your usual routine.

The key here is that taking baby steps lets you do the task daily making it impossible to miss since it is very easy to do. This practice lets you commit on a micro-level making it impossible to fail, thus you are likely to repeat it every day of your routine. Now, repeat after me, ‘Repetition is the key to success and habit development!’ You are good to go now!

4. DO NOT Skip – try to make it daily

As already stated, the key here is repetition. Repeat, repeat and repeat daily. Do not skip the habit that you are trying to install in your brain, not even for a day because that’s where things get wrong. Skipping for even a day will get you off track. It will take your mind off the habit you are trying to develop.

Try to repeat the habit at the same time every day. It will let you lock that habit in faster and more efficiently help you in the long run. Your body and mind are very much adapted to the rhythm you create every day which includes at what time and how you perform a particular task. What you do daily incites a habitual response in your brain, your brain then reacts by installing the habit facilitating you in the long run.

Identify what time of the day is the best for you to work on the habit you are trying to form. Start at that same time daily. You are able to get the work done if you use this strategy. Also, it will let you use that time block solely for your new habit, rendering you unable to skip. Once you do not skip what you are trying to build, you will succeed undoubtedly.

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5. Measure your Progress

You want to form a habit as soon as possible and you want to be consistent and good at it, the best thing you could do for yourself is to measure your progress each day. Let’s say you want to be fit. You are trying to exercise daily. So, take out a calendar and mark the days on which you did a workout. Another thing that can help you track your progress is a planner or a journal. Track down every day of yours and note down on which days you exercised and on which days you skipped. It will help you know and measure your progress, in turn helping you to stay consistent.

Let’s say you want to form a habit of eating healthy. Journaling every day and tracking what you ate in every meal will let you measure your progress. You can also use apps like MyFitnessPal which lets you count your calories and thus keeps you notified on your eating habits. Measuring your progress will let you know how you are coping up with the change you are making in yourself. It will let you know your imperfections, on which days you slacked, and on which days you were on the top of your game. It will let you hold yourself accountable for your actions, clearly helping you to form a new habit.

6. Reward Yourself

Rewarding yourself for your accomplishments is quite important as explained above in Clear’s model for habit formation. It is the reward that you are chasing. Reward is the ultimate goal that you are trying to achieve at the end of the day. Implementing rewards for yourself while you are working on the new habit will highly increase your odds of success, making you feel good about yourself and your hard work. It will guide you and work as a source of motivation for you when you are not feeling like it.

Let’s look at this example. You have a test that you are trying to study for. You can make the act of studying easier by setting up a reward for yourself at the end of your study session, like using social media for 20 minutes after 2 hours of study. This will help you complete your task and will give you a sense of accomplishment and success.

Remember that your reward does not need to be big but it should be something that you desire and crave. Rewards allow you to repeat the actions helping you execute the new habit you are trying to install in your brain. Implementing a reward system on yourself will let you celebrate your success and will lock in your new habit.

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Conclusion

Forming a habit and sticking to it can be quite difficult. Whether it is your diet, exercise, reading, or writing daily, it can be difficult to make certain changes but it is certainly not impossible. Once you choose a habit and start working on it, the time frame required for you to adopt that habit is quite broad. It can take anywhere from 18 to 254 days for you to develop the habit. Whereas, it takes about an average of 66 days for the habit to become automatic. It depends on your ability and the habit that you chose, that is why there is no right or wrong timeline.

So, choose a habit that you want to form, focus on the ultimate goal, make commitments to not skip even for a day, and implement a reward system for yourself. Remember to stay consistent and repeat the action every day for it to become automatic. And most importantly, try to follow the guide provided above to be successful in your journey.

About the Author

Sara Khan

Sara is a freelance writer and an entrepreneur running a fashion label 'Rococo official'. She aims to spread happiness and inspire people whether through writing or clothing.

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