HABITS are present in most individuals whether good, bad or very annoying! But how do these habits form? And just how long does it take for them to develop?
Positive habits which individuals may be interested to adjust to could be taking up some form of daily exercise, eating more fruits and vegetables or drinking more water. However, the length of time in which this new activity takes to become an automatic action is arguably very difficult to decide upon.
Lally et al (2009) found that on average, after 66 days, participants’ became accustomed to their new activity and at this point found that their behaviour had become as automatic as it could be. It was also noted from this study that smaller changes within an individuals’ lifestyle (such as drinking more water) would feel more automatic after fewer days compared to a larger change, such as completing 30 minutes of physical activity everyday (Lally et al, 2009). Yet, that appears to be quite obvious. This study therefore suggests that habits can take up to 2 months to form if they are major lifestyle changes or significantly less time (around 20 days) if only minor.
So could these findings suggest that bad habits could take a similar time to be reversed?
I believe undesirable habits such as biting fingernails could be harder to break and would take much longer to reverse compared to developing a more positive habit. This is because certain factors such as: the length of time the habit has been carried out and the frequency of the habit are very important. For example, if a person had bitten their fingernails on many occasions, everyday since they were young, I believe it would be very difficult to reverse the habit and would therefore take much longer than 2 months to overcome.
Lally, P., Van Jaarsveld, C., Potts, H., Wardle, J. 2009. European Journal of Social Psychology, 40(6), 998-1009. DOI: 10.1002/ejsp.674