How long does it take to break a habit?

How long does it take to break a habit?

It can take 60 to 90 days to break a habit. Depending on the habit and your approach, it could be shorter or longer.

Let’s talk about what it is that most of us are trying to stop and why some things are harder than others.

The first is to clarify the level of difficulty in breaking the habit.

Short-term, minor impulse behavior patterns like biting your nails, playing a new game on your phone, or a new snack you can’t stop eating.

Long-term, severely addicted, drug-influenced behavior patterns like painkillers, alcohol, or opioid consumption.

If it takes around 90 days for the hardest habit like an addition to be broken, it should be less time for easier ones, right?

There is some truth to that logic but that’s only part of the picture. If you have been repeating the behavior for ten or twenty years, that’s a lot harder to break even if it’s something as simple as checking your phone every 5 minutes.

Repetition trains your behavior. The more repetitions you’ve done the stronger the mental path for performing that habit.

So where does the 60 to 90 days come from? 

There was a study in the journal Archives of General Psychiatry that looked at the relapsing rate for people with addiction and found that about 40% to 60% of people relapse if they spent less than 90 days in treatment. 

You might have heard of 21 days but this was a marketing gimmick of Dr. Maxwell Maltz who noticed how long it took plastic surgery patients to get used to surgery or amputation. 

There is also a decade-old study that claims it takes an average of 66 days to form new habits, where the participants saw themselves getting a new habit anywhere between 18-254 days. But that study is about making new ones not breaking old ones.

But starting new behaviors is easier than stopping old ones. Especially if they’re an addiction.

We all get stuck in comfortable routines. We have our go-to’s that let us turn our brain on autopilot every time we need to make a choice.

We want to know how we can stop overeating, stop misplacing things, stop missing deadlines at work, and stop procrastinating on the things we wish we would just get done.

A better question is, How can I change my behavior to do the things I want instead of the old habit?

We want to be stronger, sleeker, sophisticated, and successful, and yet our desires and thoughts seem to run in the opposite direction at every opportunity. 

How do I change a habit?

A habit is a repetitive behavior that can eventually be done subconsciously. They are triggered by thoughts, emotions, or your environment. 

A common myth about habits is that they become effortless and you can do them on autopilot. This isn’t true, you still need to put in the energy to perform the task even if it’s a simple thing like brushing your teeth. There will be days when you don’t feel like it despite it being a habit. 

More importantly, habits are learned behavior. If you learned it, you could forget it too! Just think of how much you forgot already from high school. 

How are habits created?

Do you remember when you started putting your keys in your right pocket and your phone on the left?

Probably not but you do it every time. Habits are formed through repetitive actions either consciously or unconsciously. 

What is fascinating to note is that emotion can influence the speed of forming new habits or breaking old ones. 

A simple example of this is getting into a car accident because you were texting, the fear of repeating the incident can brake the habit you had and create a new one of never texting while driving.

To replace an existing habit with a new one you need to identify what triggers the habit. It could be emotional like nervousness, boredom, or hunger. It could be environmental such as walking into the kitchen, driving by the pub, or entering work.

Once you can tell what’s triggering the habit you need to consciously think of the new habit you want to replace it with and do it instead.

Of course, this is easier said than done with habits that are strongly engraved in your life but the good news is that small changes will make a big difference as long as you’re consistent.

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