Have you ever wondered how long it would take to see your new year resolution to truly take hold in new behaviour? Habits are formed through a process called ‘context-dependent repetition’. Some say it takes 21 days for new behaviour to be formed. However, I have also heard that 66 days is more realistic. So,which is correct?
I have recently come across the excellent Health Behaviour Research Centre blog. The Centre is part of the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, UCL. The centre is comprised of an academic research group made up of health promotion experts, psychologists, epidemiologists, physiologists and nutritionists. The blog posts feature research that is focused on behaviours related to health particularly those that are related to cancer.
So what is ‘context-dependent repetition’? Habits are defined as learned actions that are triggered automatically when we encounter the situation in which we’ve repeatedly done those actions. By way of explanation lets assume that every time you return from work each evening, you make a sandwich for yourself. A mental link becomes formed between the context (arriving home) and your response to that context (eating the sandwich). This link strengthens when each time you subsequently eat a sandwich in response to getting home. We can say a habit has been formed when getting home comes to prompt you to eat a sandwich automatically, without giving it much prior thought.
I came across the blog when seeking to find research findings on how long it takes to form a new habit. I had heard that it takes 66 iterations for a new habit to be formed.
The blog smashes the 21 day myth of habit formation. Researchers from the UCL department have undertaken a more rigorous and valid study of habit formation (Lally, van Jaarsveld, Potts, & Wardle, 2010) which found that it took, on average, 66 days for the habit to form. It will, therefore, take until March 6st for a New Year resolution to take hold.
Perhaps 12 steps recovery fellowships have something of substance (pardon the pun) when they advocate 90 meetings in 90 days.
The important aspect of good habit formation is to do it on a daily basis. Here, the fidelity of the practice is important. Try not to give up. Do it even when you don’t want to do it. It is by the practice of a good habit that gradually outweighs the power of a bad habit.