Unravelling the Mystery: How Long Does It Take to Break a Habit?

how long does it take to break a habit
how long does it take to break a habit

Habits are a fundamental part of our daily lives. They can be good or bad, and while good habits are beneficial, bad habits can negatively impact our physical and mental health. Breaking a habit can be a challenging and often frustrating process, but it is necessary to improve our well-being.

The question is, how long does it take to break a habit? The answer is not straightforward since it depends on various factors, such as the individual, the habit’s complexity, and the habit’s duration. In this article, we will explore the science behind habit formation and disruption to understand the timeline of breaking a habit.

What are habits?

Habits are routine behaviors that we perform automatically and unconsciously. They are actions or patterns of behaviour that we repeat regularly, often without realizing we are doing so. Habits can be both good and bad, and they can have a significant impact on our lives. 

Types of Habits?

There are many different types of habits that people can have. Here are some examples:

Physical habits: 

These are habits that involve physical actions, such as biting your nails, tapping your foot, or fidgeting with your hair.

Mental habits: 

These are habits that involve patterns of thinking, such as negative self-talk, worrying excessively, or catastrophizing.

Social habits: 

These are habits that involve social behaviors, such as interrupting others, talking too loudly, or being consistently late.

Emotional habits: 

These are habits that involve patterns of emotional responses, such as reacting with anger, feeling anxious in social situations, or becoming defensive when criticized.

Productivity habits: 

These are habits that help individuals stay focused and productive, such as prioritizing tasks, using a planner, or breaking down large tasks into smaller ones.

Health habits: 

These are habits that contribute to physical and mental well-being, such as regular exercise, healthy eating, getting enough sleep, or practicing mindfulness.

Financial habits: 

These are habits that contribute to financial stability, such as saving money, sticking to a budget, or investing wisely.

How to form habits?

Habits are formed through a process known as “chunking,” where the brain creates neural pathways that make certain behaviors automatic. These pathways are reinforced each time the behavior is repeated, eventually making the behavior a habit. Habit formation is influenced by several factors, including environmental cues, social context, and personal motivation.

How long does it take to break a habit?

The length of time it takes to break a habit can vary widely depending on a variety of factors, including the individual, the habit itself, and the circumstances surrounding the habit. Some experts have suggested that it takes an average of 21 days to break a habit, while others have argued that it can take much longer.

One study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology found that it takes an average of 66 days for a new behaviour to become automatic, although this can vary from person to person and habit to habit. Other research has suggested that more complex habits, such as smoking or overeating, can take longer to break than simpler habits like biting your nails.

Tips to break a habit

Here are some tips for breaking a habit:

Identify your triggers: Habits are often triggered by specific cues or situations. Identify what triggers your habit and try to avoid or minimize exposure to those triggers.

Replace the habit with a new behavior: Instead of simply trying to stop a habit, try replacing it with a new, healthier behavior. For example, if you want to stop snacking on junk food, try replacing it with a healthier snack like fruit or vegetables.

Make a plan: Set specific goals and create a plan for how you will break the habit. Write down your plan and review it regularly to help you stay on track.

Get support: Enlist the help of friends, family, or a support group to help you stay accountable and provide encouragement along the way.

Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness techniques such as meditation or deep breathing can help you stay aware of your habits and reduce stress, which can make breaking a habit easier.

Use positive self-talk: Replace negative self-talk with positive affirmations to help you stay motivated and focused on your goal.

Celebrate your successes: Celebrate your progress and small victories along the way to help you stay motivated and reinforce your new behavior.

What common habits are observed?

While habits can vary widely from person to person, there are some common habits that many people share. Here are a few examples:

Checking your phone frequently: With the prevalence of smartphones, many people have developed a habit of constantly checking their phone for notifications, messages, or updates.

Procrastination: Many people struggle with putting things off until the last minute, whether it’s a work project, household chores, or other tasks.

Snacking: Snacking can be a habit for many people, particularly when they are bored or stressed.

Nail biting: This is a common habit that can be both a physical and emotional response to stress or anxiety.

Skipping breakfast: Many people skip breakfast or grab a quick, unhealthy option on the go, even though breakfast is an important meal that provides energy and nutrients to start the day.

Mindless eating: This can include eating while distracted, eating quickly, or not paying attention to hunger and fullness cues.

Propping up screens: Using a phone or tablet in bed, or propping up a laptop or tablet while sitting on the couch, can be a common habit that can interfere with sleep and cause strain on the eyes and neck.


In conclusion, the timeline for how long does it take to break a habit can vary based on factors such as the nature of the habit, individual willpower, and consistency. While the “21-day rule” is a common belief, research suggests it may take closer to 66 days on average to establish new behaviors. Breaking a habit requires dedication, patience, and a strategic approach. Setting realistic goals, replacing the habit with positive alternatives, and seeking support can aid in the process. Understanding that habit change is a gradual journey can alleviate frustration and promote long-term success. Each person’s experience is unique, so focusing on progress rather than a rigid timeline is key. By persevering and remaining committed, individuals can gradually overcome unwanted habits and pave the way for lasting positive change.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1: What are some strategies for breaking a habit?

Ans: Identifying triggers, replacing the habit, making a plan, getting support.

Q2: Can habits be genetic?

Ans: There is some evidence that suggests genetics can play a role in certain habits.

Q3: How do habits form in the brain?

Ans: Habits are formed through a process known as “chunking,” which involves the brain creating neural pathways that make certain behaviours automatic.

Q4: What are some common bad habits?

Ans: Procrastination, nail biting, smoking, overeating, excessive screen time.

Q5: How can mindfulness help with breaking a habit?

Ans: Mindfulness can help increase awareness of habits and reduce stress, making it easier to break a habit.


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