How Long Does It Take To Form a Habit?
Everyone wants to know exactly how long it takes to form a habit.
“Just tell me, is it two weeks? Or one month? I just need to know.”
And I’ve asked this question many times too.
We ask this question because we desperately neeeeed to know how long we have to cling on.
We want the end to be in sight.
And though this seems like a fair question on the surface, it highlights a flawed perspective. That is, that there are arbitrary measures of success that apply to every single individual.
I used to ask the ‘how long does it take question’ incessantly.
“How long does it take to get six pack abs?”
“How long does it take to become a millionaire?”
“How long does it take to get good with girls?”
And on and on and on.
The internet could tell me precisely how long it takes the average person to start a habit or get a six pack.
But I never stopped to ask: “how could it be possible that someone as slim as me could take as long as a morbidly obese grandad to get six pack abs?”
These ‘how long does it take’ questions fail because they are asking for an average to shed light on a person’s specific, unique, individual requirements. The average person may take 1 year to get a six pack but what does that say about you?
When you consider the almost endless variation between people you will realise averages don’t really tell you anything at all about individuals. Averages remove huge swaths of data that is crucial to developing a smart game plan.
And the reason we ask these questions, is because we want things to be easy. We don’t want to have to consider metabolic rate, body fat percentage and fat distribution, workout intensity and frequency, weight lifting experience, age, sleep health, diet, stress, and genetics when figuring out how long it will take to get a six pack.
And its this desire for easiness that has us desperately searching for silver bullets. Get a Victoria Secrets model in 2 weeks. Make Jeff Bezos your little bitch in 28 days. Become jacked on the pizza and weed diet.
But one thing I’ve learnt in life, is that easy shit never gets you want. There is a damn good reason why the vast majority of people don’t have a six pack or a million bucks – because these things are hard.
So stop wanting it to be easy, accept that it never will be.
Anyway, you’re here to figure out how long it takes to form a habit.
The answer is, it depends. It depends on the habit and it depends on the person. According to research by the University College London, it can take anywhere from 18 to 254 days to form a habit.
One variable you can turn the dial on to get habits to stick sooner is frequency. The more often you preform a task, the quicker it will become habitual.
So let’s say you want to get into the habit of doing sit ups. You have a lot of various ways you can set this up.
- You could do 700 sit ups once a week.
- You could do 100 sit ups every morning.
- You could do 10 sit ups 10 times per day.
Which option do you think would be the most effective is establishing this habit?
The third option.
How long you do a habit for barely matters at all. But the frequency with which you do the habit matters an awful lot.
Your brain is constantly trying to optimise. And when it sees that you keep repeating the same action again and again, it looks to automate it to remove the cognitive load.
Additionally, every time you act you are voting in favour of a particular identity. Every time you eat that bag of M&Ms you’re voting for the ‘I’m a sugar junkie who doesn’t care about my health’ identity. And every time you do sit ups or go for a run you’re voting for the ‘I’m an athlete and I care about my health’ identity. So the more times you repeat an action, the more votes that identity gets and the more likely that habit is to stick.
Ultimately, our brains ensures our actions are consistent with our identities.
So if you want a habit to stick and you want it to stick quick, increase the frequency and reduce the load:
Write 100 words 5 times per day instead of writing 3500 words once a week.
Meditate for one minute 10 times a day instead of meditating for an hour once a week.
Increase the frequency, increase the stickiness.
And that’s it!
Until next time, stay saucy!