How Long Does It Take To Break a Habit?
In most cases, habits are a really good thing. They help us to create a little order in our crazy lives and keep us from having to make the same decisions every day.
If you have a habit of waking up before the sun, pumping iron at the gym, showering, eating breakfast, and then leaving for the office, you don’t have to wake up thinking about what you need to do because you’ll just wake up and automatically do what you normally do. If you ask us, this helps to make hectic mornings less hectic since you can go through all your morning paces automatically!
Similarly, if you've formed a habit of scheduling your day every morning, you’ll never find yourself feeling idle, scratching your head trying to figure out what you should be doing on a Tuesday afternoon or what you should make the fam for dinner.
Sometimes, however, habits are not so good.
Bad habits can waste our time, make us unproductive, negatively affect our health, burn a hole in our pocket, or lead us astray in many other ways.
Do you have any bad habits? Some examples include smoking, procrastination, unhealthy eating habits, nail-biting, constantly checking the latest and greatest on our social media feeds, and so on. (Yep, you read that right, scrolling through Instagram for hours on end is not a healthy habit in the slightest!)
Many of us who have a bad habit (or two) are already aware that we have one, and we know that it’s bad for our overall well-being --- so why do we continue to engage in the habit if we know it’s bad for us?
Well, the thing with habits is that they’re a bit difficult to change. While we all actually want to get rid of the bad habit, we find breaking the habit is no easy feat because, well, we’re so used to it.
The good news is that it is possible to break a bad habit -- but how long does it take, exactly?
Read on to learn everything you need to know about breaking habits and all the best tips and tricks to forming good ones.
How Are Habits Formed?
In a nutshell, a habit can be defined as a tendency, routine, practice or behavior that has been repeated so many times that it starts occurring without conscious thought.
Habits typically consist of three main elements:
- A cue that triggers an action
- An action that follows the cue
- And a reward that follows the action
For example, let’s say you’ve formed a habit of scrolling through your Twitter feed during the morning commute to work.
In this scenario, hopping on the train or bus acts as the cue.
Simply hopping on the bus or train makes you want to reach for your phone.
Reaching for your phone and logging onto Twitter is the action.
Once you log in, seeing all the new and exciting things your favorite celebs have shared and the notifications from your friends’ reactions leads to a release of the happy hormone in your brain, dopamine.
The release of this powerful hormone and the subsequent happiness is the reward for the action. And the reward plays a key role in making most habits addictive.
Now, you need to understand a little something about that big, beautiful brain of yours. You see, the human brain is wired for efficiency. It’s always trying to find the best way to get things done while expending the least amount of effort.
When we repeat a certain action numerous times, our brain starts to notice a pattern of three elements -- a cue, an action, and the reward. Our brain then creates neural pathways linking the three elements together.
Rather than thinking constantly about what to do, our brain automatically fires up these neural pathways every time the cue comes up. So every single time you hop on the bus, you automatically grab your smartphone without even having to think about it. Why? Simple -- because your brain knows this specific action will lead to a great reward. The more times you repeat this specific action, the stronger these neural pathways become.
When it comes to habits, it’s good to keep in mind that anything can act as a cue. It could be a specific event, place, an emotional or mental state, a certain phrase, a time of day, and so on.
Whenever this cue happens to pop up, your brain automatically triggers the action related to the cue. Additionally, it’s also good to note that the cue that triggers a certain action is usually very specific.
For example, being bored while you’re at home might trigger a totally different action compared to being bored at the office. Now, here’s what makes breaking a habit so challenging -- once your brain has established neural pathways, it can’t destroy them.
Even when you think you have successfully kicked a habit to the curb, what actually happens is that these pathways have become weak -- but they’re still there. This is why it’s so easy for an addict to relapse even a year down the line.
Okay, So How Do You Break a Habit?
We totally get what you’re thinking: how in the world are you able to break habits if the neural pathways are still there -- and then never go away?
While it’s true these pathways are here to stay once they form, it is possible to break habits.
How, might you ask? Well, breaking a habit basically involves forming new neural pathways that are much stronger than the already established pathways.
While you can’t stop the cue from triggering an action, you can change the action that is triggered by the cue. And with time, a new neural pathway will form, linking the trigger with another action. And once that new neural pathway becomes stronger than the previous one, the old habit is dropped, and the new one is picked up.
This is why the easiest way of breaking old habits is to replace them with new ones. For example, someone trying to ditch cigarettes might replace smoking with chewing gum. With time, the neural pathway related to chewing gum becomes much stronger, such that when the previous cue comes up, the individual reaches for chewing gum rather than a “tasty” cigarette.
What is The 21/90™ Rule?
At the end of the day, there’s no magic number of repetitions that’ll get you to internalize the habits you want. Researchers have proposed dozens of different ways of understanding habit formation, but the truth is that everyone is different and what might take you a month to break a habit might take someone else a year, or even two years.
However, when it comes to forming good habits, we like to follow our 21/90™ rule to make the process more simple -- and who doesn’t like simple?!
What is the 21/90™ rule, you ask? Basically, it’s our belief that it takes 21 days to create a good habit and 90 days to make it part of your lifestyle. After you complete the 90 days, the new habit will be as much a part of your daily lifestyle as showering first thing in the morning or brushing your pearly whites.
Now, we will warn you, though: getting past the 21 days and beyond is no walk in the park. It takes hard work, patience, and some serious dedication.
Here are a few quick tips to help you on your journey:
Pick one habit at a time. Start with one small achievable goal that you can easily commit to and focus on for the next 21 days.
Start out simple to help the habit stick. For instance, if you’re trying to get into the habit of exercising every morning, try committing to ten minutes of exercise rather than an entire hour. Stay focused, but be patient with yourself and take one day at a time.
- Stay on track. The closer you get to the 90 says, the easier maintaining the habit will be. Keep up the good work and stay on track!
A Final Word
Is there something you’ve always meant to do -- wanted to do -- but just… haven’t?
Try it for 21 days and see if it’s something you like. Then, keep at it for another 90 days to make it a part of your lifestyle.
For instance, we all know the importance of taking vitamins, but getting in the habit of taking them can be tough. We wholeheartedly believe the 21/90™ method works perfectly for this, so order your own Love Wellness supplements and set a time each morning to take them. After 21 days, it’ll become second nature to take your vitamins, which, if you ask us -- is a pretty great habit to have!
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