Breaking habits can be tough in a world of information and technology. With a growing abundance of apps designed to help people form habits. Many of them are built on the assumption that all you need is 21 days.
This figure comes from a book called Psycho-Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz written 1960. A plastic surgeon who noticed his patients seemed to take about 21 days to get used to their reconstructed faces.
However, according a research study in 2009, the time it takes to form a habit is actually less obvious. Researchers from University College London studied the new habits of 96 people over the space of 12 weeks. Individual times varied from 18 to 254 days.
Habit forming and breaking can be quite closely linked. Ending a habit effectively means forming a new habit. The old habit or pattern of responding is still there but it is less assertive.
When we stop to think about our habits, we begin to realise that it is easier to start doing something new, than to stop an old habit unless it is replaced with a new behaviour.
There appears to be a general consensus that there is no typical time frame for breaking a habit. To successfully move forward requires a combination of things including circumstances and motivation. To end a habit for reasons that are aligned with personal values will change behaviour quicker than people who are doing it for external reasons such as pressure from others.
There are suggestions that sometimes a habit can be broken quickly in extreme cases. A habit can be broken instantly, such as if you happen to become violently ill when you inhale cigarette smoke, or nearly get hit by a vehicle when on your phone and walking.
But in most cases it’s going to take longer, and you should probably allow for at least 60 to 90 days. To effectively break a habit, you need to consider and keep in mind your strongest motivation that will keep your focus.
“Breaking habits needs a positive alternative”
Think of, and action a “positive” substitute behaviour for the habit; replacing smoking with snacking is a common trap, for example.
Remember be patient, the longer you have had a habit, the longer it will probably take to break.
Habits that you have had for a long time are literally entrenched at the deepest level. So they are a powerful stimulus for behaviour. The good news is that people are nearly always capable of doing something else when they are made aware of the habit and are appropriately motivated to change.
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