It’s difficult to find anybody who doesn’t have a self-professed “bad habit” or two – so why don’t good habits stick as easily as the bad ones? Although good habits are an important cornerstone of healthy wellness, sometimes it just doesn’t feel as satisfying to stick with them as it does to let them slide. We don’t get immediate gratification from things like healthy eating or a regular exercise routine, and so it’s common to give up before we see results. However, the human brain is a fascinating machine in that it needs time and repetition to keep up our habits – whether they’re destructive or constructive.
It’s up to you to choose the healthy habits, and then stick with the routine to get yourself used to them. But how long exactly will that take? Let’s investigate some popular guesses as well as the science behind them.
Busting the 21-Day Myth
If you take popular wisdom at face value, it takes 21 days of repetition in order to form a healthy habit. This common misconception can be traced back to plastic surgeon Dr. Maxwell Maltz in the 1950s, who studied how his patients needed an average of 21 days to get used to their physical changes. He published a book on his findings in 1960, and it became a smash hit — and unwittingly made a lot of people believe that it only took 21 days for a healthy habit to become routine.
But just because a person believes it doesn’t make it so. An article on Bustle points out that we’ve been “misquoting the factoid,” and that science has shown that it actually takes 66 days to form a habit. A 2010 study of 96 people found that it took them an average of 66 days to make a healthy lifestyle change — something that they automatically undertake every day, such as drinking a glass of water.
So if you want to start going to the gym, build it into your schedule for just over two months and see if it doesn’t just suddenly become an accepted part of your day – something your brain decides it just “has to do” as part of your daily routine.
Overcoming the Challenges
As with any human study, results may vary wildly depending on the individual. Although Dr. Maltz’s studies were proven false, the more recent 2010 study still found that there were large variations between subjects, and the 66 days was simply an average length of time between the 96 people studied. The actual length of time it takes for you personally to form a good habit might be longer, and it can even depend on how easy or how strenuous the activity is (there’s a reason a lot of people can’t seem to make exercising a regular activity).
The good news is that anyone can learn how to adopt healthy habits from the newer study. Bustle quotes an article from Elite Daily that breaks the 66 days down into three stages, including a first stage of “being obnoxious” and telling everyone what habit you’re trying to implement (so you feel as though you’ll be held accountable), a second stage of contemplation and looking inward, and a third stage of pushing yourself towards your goal. A piece at Forbes echoes much of the same method: the first stage will feel easy, but the second stage could be more of a struggle, while the final stage is “getting into the groove.” It’s a process that clearly needs more than 21 days, but if you’re prepared for how your brain might react to this change in behavior, then you’re already one step ahead.
Of course, your wellness habit doesn’t end after the 66 days are up; instead, you’re going to have to train your brain to consider this a lifelong change, not a quick fix that you only have to do once. Keep a mindset that you need to make this behavior habitual, and before long you might not even notice that you’re choosing healthier foods or waking up earlier to be more productive.
Stay On Track
Creating healthy habit-forming behavior can vary from person to person, but thankfully anyone is capable of training their brain to accept good habits over bad ones. It may not feel like the easiest route at the time, but it’s important to hold yourself accountable and stick with your new routines. At the very least, give yourself 66 days and see how you feel afterward. You might just be tempted to keep it up far past the deadline.
Have you ever trained yourself into a healthy habit? How long did it take you? Tell us in the comments.