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How Long Does It Take To Form A Habit?

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

Habits are funny things. Everyone has them, and that’s not just limited to humans either. Some habits we wouldn’t necessarily clarify as such, but all our little habits are what makes up our daily routines, and ultimately ourselves.

One of my habits is my uni schedule. Everyday I head to uni for whatever time my classes start, and I walk up the same roads, carrying my laptop in a tote bag, listening to my music choice for the day. I don’t think a schedule is a habit, but I’ve definitely chosen a specific way that I like to do it, and that’s what I stick with. Honestly, there are maybe three routes I can take to reach the uni in the same amount of time, but I like one route more, and so that’s the way I always walk. I have a backpack too, but I grab my tote bag out of routine. I could walk without music, or head up early to get work done first, but I like how I do things. I like most of my habits.

Some habits are good, some are bad, and some are just neutral. My route to uni has no impact on my life, nor anyone else’s, and it would make no difference if I went a different route – a neutral habit. I used to bite my nails, which hurt and made me feel embarrassed about my hands, so changing that made me happier – a bad habit. Choosing to eat healthier, maybe by grabbing an apple on the way out of the house, gives you nutrients and stopping that would mean your body has less energy and vitamins – a good habit.

The funny thing is that we often don’t choose our habits. Most habits are more subconscious than anything and developed without our choosing them, and by the time you’ve noticed the habit, it’s pretty hard to stop it. Subconscious habits are things that don’t require a lot of effort or don’t make much difference to our lives, so it’s easy not to realise that they are there, but habits are also repeated behaviours that create new pathways in our brain, and so they are hard to break.

Starting a new habit

Think back to the example of heading off to class. Think about your morning routine: waking up, what food you have (if any), whether you have any water, where you leave your phone, wallet, keys. Think about stepping outside your door, and which way you turn to begin your morning. 

Now try imagining that you’re standing outside your door, and picture the view to your other side. Your mental image is probably a little blurrier than in the first scenario, if indeed you can picture what’s there at all. Try to think of yourself walking that way, and you’ll see how wrong it feels because you are so used to heading in the other direction.

Congratulations; you’ve found yourself a habit.

Of course, this kind of neutral habit isn’t something that you really need to change, because it simply doesn’t impact your life. There’s not much benefit to you walking in the opposite direction (indeed, you might just be heading away from uni and late to class), but that’s not the case for all your habits.

A habit is something that you repeat often enough that it becomes your automatic behaviour, and it’s what you will always do in lieu of something else interrupting that. If you have a habit you don’t like, it’s not as simple as choosing to stop; it’s something you have to repeatedly work on until you’ve created a new habit in its place.

There isn’t really a statistical number for how long that can take. It’s quoted that it can take between 18 and 254 days for a new habit to form, and that varies depending on how much effort your new habit requires you to expend. If your normal habit is to eat junk food for every meal, it’s a lot of energy to replace all your food with healthy options, and that will take a longer time to become a habit. You’re much more likely to stick to something lower effort, like replacing one thing on your plate with fruit, and it’ll become a habit much faster than high energy ideas.

If you really do like numbers though, try this one: 66

66 days is the average time quoted for a habit to stick, and although it’s proven not to be an absolute figure, it’s a pretty good target to aim for! It can be broken up into smaller targets, like sets of 7 days, where you can celebrate keeping with your new habit (whether that’s studying more, waking up earlier or eating healthier). Maybe you’ll find that by day 20, you’ve forgotten that there was even a different habit in place before that.

Odds are that by the time you reach day 66, whatever you’re focusing on will have become routine to you. It won’t be something you necessarily think about, but it will have a positive impact on you and your life. 66 doesn’t mean that you won’t slip up occasionally either, since habits aren’t formed by one-off choices or mistakes either. Do it on most days, and eventually you’ll find yourself doing it on all days.

Habits aren’t always a choice. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t do anything about them.

Peta is a second year student taking Politics and International Relations, and (unsurprisingly) takes an interest in current events.
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