How Long Does it Take to Form a Habit?

The fitness industry didn’t used to be like this. You used to get a restrictive meal plan or insane workout protocol. And then if you didn’t do it, it was all your fault. But somewhere around the time that fitness professionals began to take more responsibility for their clients’ outcomes, change was brewing.

Behavioural change (and you can take that segue to the bank)!

The idea of elevating your life by elevating your habits has swept across a number of industries. Many of us come to realize that gradual, sustainable evolution is behind some of our greatest feats. And the fitness industry was unusually quick to adopt this new information. We’re not always that clever, you know. But this was a necessary and refreshing upgrade to our delivery system.

There’s an inherent appeal to doing one simple thing for results (even if that simple thing is excruciating). Every single marketer recognizes this and many exploit it.

To be clear, there’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting a quick, dramatic fix. If those things exist, you should use them. And if there’s any doubt in your mind, you should give one a try. Just promise me you won’t get killed or bankrupted along the way. Also remember, however, that the base unit of success for most things is your habits.

One of the big questions is how much time you need to build a habit. 21 days is a popular answer dating back to some 1960s pop-psychology and popularized by author Leo Babauta.

18-254 days is a range based on more recent research. And that’s a pretty big range. But why wouldn’t it be? Throwing out a number like 21 is kind of like throwing out a prescription without ever having met the patient. Who is that for!? When is that for!? Often, the average of a bunch of different numbers works for approximately nobody.

To help you figure out how long habit change might take in a particular situation, we’ve put together some factors. And they have a lot to do with resistance.

How different is a habit from your current lifestyle and schedule? Is it an easy fit – or does profound change have to happen?
How clear is your understanding of what this habit looks like in practice?
How much discomfort does this habit create?
How enjoyable is the habit in action (this can be fun, you know)?
What’s the time gap between execution of the habit and reward?
How well does the habit match your current values?
AND (this is an important one)
Do you know how to simplify or modify this habit if you find yourself off-course?

Answering these questions might give you an idea of where in the above range things might fall. And that number might tell you whether you have the time, resources, patience to invest. And if you don’t, this does not make you a terrible human being. It means you understand the practical limitations and can then feel free to look for lower-hanging fruit.