How Long Does It Take To Change A Behavior?

How long does it take to change/develop a behavior? While it takes 66 days to develop a habit, a behavior change is a little more challenging. The Dictionary defines a behavior as, the manner of conducting oneself, anything that an organism does involving action and response to stimulation, and the response of an individual, group, or species to its environment.

A famous study, called the Transtheoretical Model of Change, a theoretical model of behavior change, has been the basis for developing effective interventions to promote health behavior change. The Transtheoretical Model (Prochaska & DiClemente, 1983; Prochaska, DiClemente, & Norcross, 1992; Prochaska & Velicer, 1997) is a model of intentional change. The model describes how people modify a problem behavior or acquire a positive behavior.

The Transtheoretical Model discovered something startling information about creating healthy behaviors. After 12 months of health habits, 43% failed to maintain their healthy habit. It was not until 5 years of maintenance that the risk for relapse dropped to 7%.

What does this mean?

Let's say, your goal is to drink 100oz of water a day. We established in How Long To Develop A Habit, it will take 66 days before that habit is established. You are now trying to convert your habit into a healthy behavior. It will take between 1 and 5 years before drinking 100oz of water is a true behavior. To truly find out if you have the behavior established, you need to be put in an environment to not succeed. Let's pretend you are invited to a party and have to drive to it. When you arrive at this party, you realize that you have only consumed 80oz of water and the party only has juice, wine, and water! What are you going to do? Throw in the towel and give up? Will you jump in your car and drive to the nearest convenience store and invest in 20oz of water? Maybe you will even plan ahead thinking there might not be any water at the party and bring your own water bottle. Hopefully, the second or third choice is your answer. When developing a behavior, you need to overcome an environment which is not supporting your goal. Keep in mind, one mistake does not override the success you have built so far. Progression, not perfection is my phrase I say constantly. Success breeds success. Mistakes will happen however the more successes we have, the more likely we are developing a healthy behavior.

I need everyone to understand that behavior change is difficult and takes years to develop. Once you wrap your mind around this concept, a new timeframe is established as to what you need to hold yourself accountable to. If you think of it as a year to 5 year commitment, you are far more likely to succeed at your new healthy behavior.

What are you to do?

When you are making changes in your life, every day is just as important as the next. Actions lead to habits which lead to behavior modification. While it takes habits at least 66 days of actions to become a pattern, modifying one's behavior takes an investment of time. After the first year, you have statistics leaning in your favor, 57% chance of being successful, but you still need to be careful. It is not until after 5 years later which one's behavior was over 93% successful. Each day will accumulate together and the behavior will become easier vs. when you first started. Stay focused and as each year passes, your behavior will become more ingrained in your lifestyle and you have the ability to overcome negative responses to individuals, groups, or even environments.


Steven Zahn

ACE Certified Personal Trainer

NASM Certified Personal Trainer

Pre and Post Partum Certified

Dragondoor Publications: HKC Russian Kettlebell Certified