Here's How Long It Takes To Break A Bad Habit (Hint: It's Not 21 Days) 5 years ago

Here's How Long It Takes To Break A Bad Habit (Hint: It's Not 21 Days)

Habits are what get us through our daily routine - teeth brushing, driving, coffee. Some are great like daily aerobics classes - others not so much, like smoking or staring at our mobile phones. Guilty!

We KNOW that habits are useful or positive behaviour and that's why we constantly try to shape or change them.

It is all down the psychology of behavioural change. Simple? Not so, say scientists at University College London.

The vast maze that is our human brain has the capacity to change our everyday behaviour -  but only if we do it over and over and over and over and over again. 66 times, in fact. This is the magic number that researchers found can affect this type of brain function.

Habits are peculiar things; they are so deeply wired into our brains that we tend to perform them automatically. This frees up our brain to deal with other tasks like what to make for dinner or what shoes to wear on Saturday night. Phillipa Lally who led the team said;


"To create a habit, you need to repeat the behaviour in the same situation. It is important that something about the setting where you perform the behaviour is consistent so that it can cue the behaviour. If you choose a context cue, for example after lunch, we don’t think that it matters if you eat lunch at different times in the day. Breaking a habit is very difficult. The easiest way is to control your environment so that you do not encounter the cue which triggers your habit. It is difficult to break any habit even when you are motivated to do so. If you are ambivalent about breaking it, then you will be less likely to succeed. New habits do not stop the old habits from existing; they just have to become stronger influences on behaviour."

But although habits may be very ingrained, they can also be shut off. This allows us to overcome our disgusting habits (we all have them!) but mostly can help to treat those who suffer disorders involving overly habitual behaviour like OCD for example.

So set your expectations appropriately - it will probably take you AT LEAST two months to build new behaviours into your life. But take solace in the fact that researchers also found that messing up every now and again DOESN'T effect the habit formation process too much. Horray there is hope for me yet!

It's gonna take more than will power!