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How long does it take to form a habit?

 

Ever heard it takes 21 days to make or break a habit? Yep, we have too. Then 21 days later, when it’s not second nature to you, you can’t help but feel disheartened. Even worse you felt like if it wasn’t a habit after the magical 21 days then it never will be so what’s the point in trying? Or maybe you saw Gymshark’s 66 campaign, where new research tells you it takes 66 days to form a habit and change your life and decided 66 was now your magic number.

We’re only human and as human’s we constantly search to find the secret to success, how many days it takes to master something and ultimately a way to predict the future. So when numbers float around that gives us hope, then we cling on to it like the gospel. So how long does it really take to form a habit?

True answer: It can massively vary; I know not the answer you were hoping for. Why isn’t it the infamous 21 days? Well back in the 50s, a plastic surgeon noticed a pattern amongst his patients. He noticed it took around 21 days for someone to get used to seeing their new face after a nose job and similarly it took 21 days for someone who had a limb amputated to stop sensing a phantom limb. He then took this theory and looked at habits, he observed that it required at least 21 days for an old mental image to dissolve and a new one to form. The book he wrote about it went on to become a best seller and the ‘minimum of 21 days’ quickly changed into ’just 21 days to form a habit’.

So, if not 21 days, what about 66? In 2009, Philippa Lally investigated the process of habit formation in everyday life by taking 96 volunteers and monitored them. The 96 volunteers chose an eating, drinking or activity behaviour to carry out daily. They completed a self-report habit index each day and recorded whether they carried out the behaviour. The time it took for this behaviour to become a habit ranged from 18 – 254 days with the average being 66 days.

So even 66 is not a definitive number it depends on the person and the habit they are trying to embed but what we do know from this study is it is the repetition of a behaviour within a consistent context which builds a habit. So if you’re trying to build the gym into your daily routine then keep the time of day you go consistent, i.e always go on the way or way back from work. Don’t worry if you miss one session, the study showed that missing one opportunity to perform the behaviour did not materially affect the habit formation process.

So, if you are looking to embed the gym into your daily routine, we can’t tell you exactly how many days it will take to become a habit, but trust us, if you stick with it for a month, we’re sure the changes you will see and feel will help keep you going until it does become second nature.