There’s a lot of confusion about how long it takes to create a new habit. I’ve heard anywhere from 21 days to 70 days. That’s a big swing. Exactly how many days does it take to create a habit?
Habits are repetitive behaviors you do without too much thought. Things like brushing your teeth, tapping your foot while waiting, going for a run each morning (really, who does that?) or having your coffee or tea at the same time each morning.
Please note, though, that habits are different from addictions. Someone might call their cigarette smoking a habit, but it’s not. It’s an addiction that causes a chemical reaction in their system. If you try to quit an addiction, it causes withdrawal symptoms. If you need help quitting or changing an addiction it’s beneficial to seek out professional help.
How Many Days
I used to hear that it takes 21 days to create a habit. Then, while in yoga teacher training, I hear that it takes 40 days to create a habit. But recently, I read that it takes an average of 59 to 70 days. That’s two months or more!
Forming a new habit largely depends on the person and the habit you’re trying to create. If you’re excited and motivated to create a new habit, you may form it more quicker. Getting up early to journal or to read may be a quicker habit to form than getting up early to go work out.
Also, it’s agreed that the number of repetitions is more important than the amount of time. If you’re getting up early every day to journal, you may form that habit quicker than someone who is only getting up early 3 or 4 days a week to go workout.
Steps to Form a New Habit
Start Small. Starting small and building up is important. If you’re going to run for 30 minutes every day, start running every other day. That way, you’re not overwhelming yourself.
Morning pages are supposed to be 3 pages of 8.5 by 11 sheets of paper. But I knew that was too much for me to start with. So I bought a 9 by 6 notebook and started there. Sure, my pages were smaller, but I was getting used to doing the 3-pages per day. Once I filled my notebook, I started on the larger size and was able to keep going.
Break it Down. Break down your task into simple steps. If you want to run for those 30 minutes every day, you may need to build up by walking first, then speed walking, then running. Or walk for 5 minutes followed by 5 minutes of running and slowly building up the time spent running.
A Habit Buddy. It helps to create new habits if you have someone doing it with you. Not only will you support each other, but you’ll also hold each other accountable. Not wanting to get up in the morning to do your run? Your habit buddy will be there to remind you it’s time to go.
Set Aside Time. If you want to add something to your already busy schedule, then you need to make the time for it. Not only does it need to go on your calendar or in your planner, but you also need to either drop something or add more time to your day by getting up early. When I started doing morning pages, I started getting up earlier and earlier until I added an hour to my morning schedule.
Track It. Try the Seinfeld Strategy, which is to put a big X over every day in a calendar in which you do your thing. For him, it was writing every day so he could be a better comedian.
Reward Yourself. Your brain likes encouragement, so rewarding yourself with something you enjoy will encourage your brain to keep you going.
Creating, replacing, or breaking a habit is definitely in your control. If you’d like to track your habits, I’ve created a free Habit Tracker that you can use. There’s a 30-day version in which you can track several different habits, or there’s a 100-day version that can be used to track just one habit, much like the Seinfeld Strategy.