When people hear the word “habit,” they often think that they can just put a little effort into the process, and they’ll have formed a good habit. Similarly, when they want to break a bad habit, they think that if they just put a little time and effort into changing the habit, they’ll break it. Unfortunately, there is a misconception about how much time it takes to actually form habits, and consequently, to break them. That is the basis around the number one myth of habit creation.
In Dr. Maxwell Maltz’s Psycho-Cybernetics, he said it takes a minimum of 21 days to adjust to a new situation, or similarly, to adapt to a new habit. Some admirers of his book leave out the “minimum” and quote it as taking just 21 days. However, a 2010 University College London study tracked 96 people over 84 days (12 weeks) to see how long it took them to make a daily health/lifestyle change; the study noted that it took an average of 66 days (i.e. just over two months) to make a habit automatic. In fact, the fastest person in that study did it in 18 days; the slowest person had NOT done it by the time the 84 days had passed and was estimated to not make the new habit automatic until 254 days (i.e. about 8.5 months) had passed.
In that study, it was also revealed that the amount of effort needed to create a new habit directly affected how much time it took to make the new habit automatic. As a result, an action that requires very little effort (such as drinking an extra glass of water per day) will be easier and quicker to make into a habit than an action that requires more effort (such as exercising for one hour per day).
Therefore, many people have the misperception that forming a habit can be quick, and that it is just as easy to break a habit. The truth is that it often takes months, even half a year, rather than just days or weeks to form a new habit. Similarly, when you form a bad habit over a long period of time, you’re not going to break that habit overnight or in the span of a week or two. Habits form from repeating an action or actions over and over again virtually automatically over a long period of time; therefore, to form one will take considerable time and effort on your part to achieve the habit, or will take considerable time and effort on your part to break the habit.