How Much Time Does it Take to Develop a Habit?

Creating a habit requires enough motivation to be persistent and constant. However, how much time do you really need to incorporate new behaviors into your routine?
How Much Time Does it Take to Develop a Habit?
Adriana Díez

Written and verified by the psychologist Adriana Díez.

Last update: 21 December, 2022

How long does it take to incorporate a habit into your repertoire of behaviors? How long does it take to develop one naturally? Can all your actions be acquired as habits within the same amount of time? In this article, we’ll answer these questions and solve any doubts you may have about forming habits.

We all want to incorporate certain practices into our daily routines that allow us to lead healthier lives. For example, quitting smoking, eating healthily, exercising regularly, etc. However, what happens in the process of trying? Unfortunately, in many cases, we lose motivation after a few days and simply stop trying.

Creating a habit takes effort. It means making your body or your rhythm of life adapt to new and previously unknown routines. Therefore, the keys to creating a habit are consistency and perseverance. They’re the qualities that stop you from giving up.

When you incorporate a certain behavior into your repertoire, it becomes easier to carry it out and you perform it more naturally. Thus, the first step is to identify what you want to achieve. If it’s something you want and you feel motivated to accomplish it, you’ll find it much easier to take this first step.

“The difference between the possible and the impossible lies in a man’s determination.”

-Thomas Charles Lasorda-

tired woman

How long does it take to create a habit?

In 1960, plastic surgeon Maxwell Maltz stated that it took 21 days to create a habit. However, it’s subsequently been ascertained that neurons aren’t capable of completely assimilating a new behavior in this time. In fact, with only 21 days of training, there’s a risk that the behavior may well be abandoned.

“Brain plasticity has shown that the brain is a sponge, moldable, and that we are continually reconfiguring our brain map.”

-Patricia Ramirez-

Further studies conducted by University College London found that, on average, it takes 66 days to incorporate a new behavior into your routine and make it stick. They also found that stopping the behavior for a day isn’t detrimental to the long-term goal.

Creating a habit requires routine practice at the beginning (constant/frequent) in order to make certain processes of the habit become automated. Hence, you require less effort to carry it out. The practice time will vary according to the behavior you want to acquire and how familiar it is to you. For instance, something that’s totally new and far removed from your usual routine may require more practice time than acquiring a habit that’s more familiar to you.

What’s needed to maintain your new behavior?

The first thing you must do is generate an action plan. This means creating short, medium, and long-term goals so that you don’t give up at the first opportunity and you continue to persevere in fulfilling what you set out to do. Well-defined and organized plans make the whole process easier.

An action plan for developing a habit.

Ask yourself why you want to acquire this new behavior. In fact, mapping out a future where you see yourself as having achieved it will help keep you motivated. In this way, you won’t lose sight of the dream that originally led you to make the decision to adopt your new habit. Furthermore, having your goals in sight makes your move toward them easier.

However, don’t allow yourself to procrastinate. In other words, don’t leave until tomorrow what you can do today. The sooner you start, the sooner you’ll achieve what you want. Creating a habit requires discipline and constant work. You’ll be successfully able to face these challenges if you really want to and you feel passionate about what you want to achieve.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Lally, P., Van Jaarsveld, C. H., Potts, H. W., & Wardle, J. (2010). How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world. European journal of social psychology40(6), 998-1009.
  • Smith, K. S., Virkud, A., Deisseroth, K., & Graybiel, A. M. (2012). Reversible online control of habitual behavior by optogenetic perturbation of medial prefrontal cortex. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences109(46), 18932-18937.
  • Correa, M. (2007). Neuroanatomía funcional de los aprendizajes implícitos: asociativos, motores y de hábito. Rev Neurol44(4), 234-242.
  • Arlinghaus, K. R., & Johnston, C. A. (2019). The importance of creating habits and routine. American journal of lifestyle medicine13(2), 142-144.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.