How Long Does it Take to Develop A Habit?

The consensus thought is 21 days...

"21 days is all I need to develop my healthy habit. Once I hit day 21, I have the habit secured for the rest of my life." is a common phrase I hear. Is 21 days really correct?

Let's step back for a second. Why is developing a good habit so important? Consider this, actions lead to habits which ultimately lead to behaviors. The Dictionary defines these concepts we must first understand.

1. Actions lead to habits.

  • Actions are an act that one consciously wills and that may be characterized by physical or mental activity on a daily basis.

2. Habits lead to behaviors.

  • Habits are a recurrent, often unconscious patterns -actions- which is acquired through frequent repetition.

3. Behaviors

  • A behavior is the manner of conducting oneself, conscious or unconscious, anything that an organism does involving action and response to stimulation, and the response of an individual, group, or species to its environment.

*In a later article, I will write how a habit becomes a behavior.

How long does it take to develop a habit?

The European Journal of social Psychology studied this idea. They wrote,

To investigate the process of habit formation in everyday life, 96 volunteers chose an eating, drinking or activity behavior to carry out daily in the same context (for example ‘after breakfast’) for 12 weeks. The time it took participants to reach 95% of their asymptote of automaticity ranged from 18 to 254 days; indicating considerable variation in how long it takes people to reach their limit of automatically and highlighting that it can take a very long time." What they discovered was it took more than 2 months before a new behavior became a habit. 66 days was the average time it took for a recurrent pattern to develop.

What did the European Journal of social Psychology find out?

Volunteers chose a behavior which they wanted to incorporate into their lifestyle (eating breakfast, consuming healthy foods, drinking water, etc). It took 2 months or 66 days for the participant for their new healthy action to become a habit.

What are you to do?

In order to have a healthy behavior, we need to establish healthy habits. Habits are conscious and/or unconscious actions. Healthy habits are prerequisites for healthy behaviors. Every habit, whether it is a good or bad one, starts with Day 1. Pick a healthy habit you want to incorporate into your lifestyle. When we accumulate 66 consecutive days, the European Journal of social Psychology documented we have developed a habit. Once we have a healthy habit, you are in a good position towards your health goals. However, we have not created a healthy behavior. In a later article, I will write about how one can develop or change a behavior.

Stay tuned!


Steven Zahn

ACE Certified Personal Trainer

NASM Certified Personal Trainer

Pre and Post Partum Certified

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