Experts say it takes 21 days to create a new habit. Three weeks of carrying through on your new routine consistently before it starts becoming second nature.
That’s kind of a weird idea though, isn’t it? Most of us have probably proven it doesn’t take that long to form a bad habit.
And sometimes no matter how hard we try it takes us a lot longer than just 21 days to form a new habit.
Creating a New Habit
So how long does it really take to create a new habit?
The answer is that it depends.
It depends on your mindset and it depends on how big of a change it is from what you are doing now.
For instance, if you are planning to break the habit of eating ice cream every night after dinner, some habits will be easier to adjust to.
If you're okay simply switching from regular ice cream to a low sugar frozen yogurt version, creating the new healthy habit may be pretty seamless. However, giving up ice cream altogether – or even more drastically – cutting out all sugar, might take a lot longer.
By asking, “how long does it really take to create a new habit?” what what we actually want to know is how long do we have to tough it out before it gets easier. Is there a light at the end of the tunnel where we don’t have to try so hard anymore?
In other words, when will this new behavior become automatic?
While it will be different from one person to the next and even from one habit to the next, there are a few things to keep in mind.
It’s easier to create a new habit than eliminate an old one.
First, remember that it's always easier to create a new habit in replacement than to eliminate a habit altogether. Whenever possible, try to replace an old habit with a new one. For example if you’re wanting to give up coffee, brew a cup of herbal tea in the morning and throughout the day when you would usually reach for your cup of joe.
Be prepared to work a lot harder giving up obsessive habits like checking email every 2 minutes or snacking late at night.
New Habits Love a Consistent Environment
Habits will form faster if you stick to the as consistent a pattern as possible. This means everything from the environment to the time of day that you are implementing your new routine.
Instead of waiting to feel ready and in the mood for heading out on a walk, schedule it on your calendar for the same time daily. Then, make sure your shoes are always in the same place and you simplify the process to get out the door.
Stay Motivated Towards the New Habit
A constant reminder of why you’re trying to change your behavior is also helpful. Remind yourself every day of the short term and long term benefits that you are receiving by making the change.
For instance, maybe you are exercising so your body stays strong and you can go play with the kids for decades to come. Find a great picture of a hike you have all taken together, and post it somewhere you see daily to remember the health factor you are striving to keep front of mind.
Another option is to create a vision board, filled with pictures of what you are working for your future to look like. This works great with habits around saving money. It can help to remind you that today's frugal habits are tomorrow's dream home!
Keep your motivation front and center and then be prepared to stick it out. Yes, it will take some time to make new habits and replace old ones. But it will be well worth it in the end. And if 21 days sounds long today, imagine looking back 3 weeks from now and realizing it was pretty simple, and now is with you for life.
Have you ever tried to create a new habit and counted out how long it actually took for you? I'd love to hear your story in the comments below!