How long does it take to form a habit? An average of 2 to 3 months, suggests research, but some habits may take more — or less— time than others.
Habits are those repetitive behaviors you do without much thought.
They might be little things that have no true impact on your day, like drumming your hands on the table before dinner, or they may be actions that impact your health and wellness, like regular exercise.
While habits aren’t easy to break, they aren’t the same as addictions; you have control over habits, and you can work toward new habit creation any time you want.
Habit formation can take an average of 59 to 70 days. According to a
For example, if you want to implement the habit of flossing on a more consistent basis, you may plan to floss every morning after brushing your teeth.
But the length of time it takes for a habit to be formed can vary from person to person, so you may not always see success in 2 months.
Habit formation largely depends on the habit itself and the individual, explains Heather Wilson, a licensed clinical social worker from Blackwood, New Jersey.
You may form habits quicker, for example, if you’re highly incentivized or monitored. Habits that aren’t enjoyable — even if they’re beneficial — may take longer to establish.
The introduction of rules, regulations, or restrictions
When habits are unhelpful
Not all habits have a positive or harmless impact on your life. Habits that include substance misuse, behaviors that may have harmful effects, or that negatively affect others may require the help of a professional to resolve.
If you have a habit that feels out of your control, you may be experiencing addiction. If you’re living with an addiction, support is available for you. Consider speaking with a licensed professional who can help you cope.
Habit vs. addiction
Stephanie Gilbert, a licensed marriage and family therapist from Los Angeles, states, “A habit is a behavior you do with some regularity, and if taken away you might miss, but can fairly easily wait until the next time you can engage in the behavior.”
An example would be having a habit of reading before bed. If you miss out on reading due to an event, it doesn’t cause you significant distress. You enjoy reading, but you don’t need it.
“An addiction is a behavior you do because you feel like you have to and there are chemical reactions happening in the brain that make that need real,” she says.
With addiction, Gilbert explains there are negative consequences, like withdrawal symptoms, for not meeting that need or craving.
To give yourself the best chance possible of meeting that 2 to 3 month average, these tips may make a difference.
1. Try to start small
Gilbert recommends building habit frequency slowly. If your goal is to read before bed every night, for example, you can start by reading before bed once a week.
2. Break down your goal into simple steps
You may be more likely to drop a behavior the more difficult it feels.
“Make it easy for yourself,” says Wilson. “For example, if your goal is to exercise more, start by committing to walking for 10 minutes a day.”
3. Consider having a habit buddy
Wilson also suggests working toward habits with a friend or family member. Not only will this provide a source of support, she says, it will also help you to hold each other accountable.
4. Set aside time everyday
Scheduling time for your new habit may help. Digital reminders and scheduling programs can offer a way for you to ensure there’s time in your day to honor your new habit.
“For instance,” says Wilson, “if you want to start meditating, decide that you will do it first thing in the morning for 10 minutes, in your bedroom before getting out of bed.”
5. Remember to reward yourself
Habits are a part of learning, and learning in the brain
When you successfully perform the new behavior, rewarding yourself with something you enjoy can provide a system of positive reinforcement.
Routine vs. habit
Gilbert says habits and routines are sometimes the same; however, routines are usually associated with repetitive times, while habits are related to specific behaviors.
Your bedtime routine, for example, may include habits like brushing your teeth, but it’s specific to the “before bed” time of day.
“Most experts agree that it is the number of repetitions that is more important than the amount of time when it comes to forming a habit,” says Wilson.
She explains this is due to a process called synaptic plasticity, which involves the strengthening of connections between neurons.
“The more repetitions there are, the stronger the connections become, and the more likely it is that the behavior will become automatic.”
Habits can be positive, negative, or meaningless. But these repetitive behaviors are within your control to make — or break.
Starting small, scheduling in time, and rewarding yourself are all ways to encourage habit formation. It may also be helpful to consider building habits that are time-based or implementing simple habits that occur in connection to established routines.
Try to take your time and discover what works best for you.