How long does it take to break an old habit, or form a new one?
This is something that fascinates us.
Coaches, we’ve come to find out first hand, are communicators, psychologists and behaviour economists as much as they experts in their field.
A coach could have an encyclopaedic knowledge of their subject matter; they could have all the PhD’s and published research articles in all the surrounding fields of their profession, but coaching is a completely different enigma.
But trying to keep to the point…sorry.
As coaches, we know the importance of ‘habit’. Of decision making. Of automated responses and actions. More simply, of lifestyle. The reason we mention the above is because, ultimately, understanding ‘habits’ and ‘behaviour’ is probably more important than all the specific technical knowledge of a chosen field.
Your lifestyle is a collection of your habits
So, could we agree to say, that in some respect, your lifestyle is simply a collection of habits? And if we do agree, we can start to understand how to create, and also how to break habits, is vitally, vitally important to your health and happiness.
Habits range from quite large and drastic behaviours, such as spending 2 hours per day training, to small, automated actions, like drinking a couple of glasses of water as soon as you wake up.
Now, this is where you have to trust us, as we do try to keep our blog posts as short and sharp (and witty) as possible. That’s our job, to bring you the clean cut version of all the geeky science/research journals and articles we love to read.
So, let’s put a number on it. Well. Let’s try to put a number on it. Just how long does it take to form a new habit, or break an old one?
The first, and most accurate answer, like with most things in life, is ‘it depends’. Sorry, but it’s true.
Some people have proven to create a sustainable habit in as little as 18 days.
However, if you really, really, really don’t want to actually create or break a habit, then you never will. So in that particular scenario, the answer is, ‘never’. That’s right, I guess we can say the answer ranges from 18 days to, well, never.
It can also depend on the habit itself, and the individual’s personality traits.
If you’ve been a smoker for 20 years and want to quit, that will be a lot harder than someone that just wants to develop the habit of taking Omega 3 on a daily basis before they go to bed.
However, if it’s a habit, you do truly intend on creating or breaking, studies suggest an average of 66 days.
Yep, could have just shortened this blog post down into a single sentence; it takes 66 days to form or end a habit.
Consistency over absolute
Another key take home from research also suggests, (again, like most things in life), it’s consistency that counts. Where most people fall short is they miss a couple of days, think that it wasn’t working anyway, and that’s it, they give up. Missing a couple of days here or there didn’t matter to those that stuck it out for the long term and eventually formed or quit their particular habit.
So, again, like most things in life. Creating or breaking a habit needs to be looked at in the bigger picture, and the journey of this process needs to be embraced and trusted, rather than seeing it as another automatic quick fix.
Let’s just look at it this way.
If there was a habit you wanted to form. Let’s say, training more regularly. Let’s say you wanted training to be part of you living a healthy and happy lifestyle.
Now, a worst case scenario is that, in say, 100 days, you are in the same place you are now. Not training, and still wanting to introduce training as part of your lifestyle.
What if someone said that in 100 days, we can make sure that training will be part of your new, healthy and happy lifestyle.
Or let’s flip it, and say that in 100 days, you will have stopped a habit, such as eating some chocolate biscuits before bedtime.
Now, if someone offered you that deal, chances are, you’d take it. Right?
100 days, and you have what you want. So if you knew that, you wouldn’t quit a quarter or half way through.
This is the hard part though. Not actually knowing or seeing the end zone. Having the motivation, determination and persistence to stick at it, without knowing when you was going to ‘succeed’. We’ll post more about the why and how later. This was just to give you an understanding of the idea that your life is largely made up of your habits, and that there is no set time you can form or break these habits.
Now, yes, for the example we’ve used, we can’t say for sure that it’ll be 100 days. We’re trying to simplify for the point of the blog. But you get the point: when creating or breaking a habit, embrace the journey and trust that if you really want it, you have to maintain the consistency and not give up.