How long does it really take to form a new healthy habit? Mythbusting the 21 Day Rule.

You’ve seen the claims ~ that a new healthy habit can be formed in just 21 days.  Three weeks of completing your NY resolution and voila! you’ve formed a habit that you can easily stick with for life, right?  If it sounds to good to be true, it probably is.

I did some research online to check this out, as I am busily resolving this month to:

1) brush my teeth for the full time with the sonicare, not just til I get bored with it.
2) do some form of weight training at least 3 days a week
3) eat 6 servings of green veggies every day, whether in powder, juice or their natural state.
4) form other healthy other habits I have forgotten since it’s already been 4 days.

The reality I discovered is that the new habit timeline is almost always longer than 21 days, and pretty much depends on how big and how difficult a change it is.

The 21-day myth began as a misinterpretation of a Dr. Maxwell Maltz’s work on self-image. Maltz did discover that “….many other commonly observed phenomena tend to show that it requires a minimum of about 21 days for an old mental image to dissolve and a new one to jell.”  So that minimum part seems to have been lost in translation, in our zeal to achieve quick results and our dislike of delayed gratification.

On average, it takes more than two months before a new behavior becomes automatic — 66 days to be exact, according to a study done by Phillippa Lally, a health psychology researcher at University College London.   In a study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, it took anywhere from 18 days to 254 days for people to form a new habitAnd how long it took a new habit to form can vary widely depending on the behavior, the person, and the circumstances.

I found some interesting info in FORBES online that outlines the 3 phases of habit formation, which is handy to know and remember as you try to unlearn or learn habits, good and bad, old and new:


This phase of habit formation is characterized by the feeling of “this is easy.”   [For me, it lasts 5-14 days, but I’ll bet each person & each habit has their own Honeymoon timeline.]


Reality sets in.  You find yourself struggling with the positive habit completion and old habits seem to be right around the corner. The key to moving out of this phase of habit formation is to win 2 or 3 “fight thru’s.” This is critical. To win the fight thru, use the following techniques:

RECOGNIZE: Recognition is essential for winning the fight thru. When you have entered the fight through, simply say to yourself, “I have entered the fight thru, and I need to win a few to move past this.” Winning each fight thru will make it easier to win the next. Conversely, when you choose to lose a fight thru, you make it easier to lose the next one.

ASK 2 QUESTIONS: â€œHow will I feel if I do this?” and â€œHow will I feel if I don’t do this?” Bring EMOTION into the equation. Let yourself feel the positive in winning the fight thru and the negative in losing.

LIFE PROJECTION: If the above 2 techniques haven’t moved you to action, then imagine in great detail how your life will be in 5 years if you do not begin making changes. Be totally honest with yourself, and allow yourself to feel what life will be like if the changes are not made.


Entering second nature is often described by feelings of “getting in the groove.” Once in second nature, the following are 3 common interruptions that will send a person back to the fight thru:

THE DISCOURAGEMENT MONSTER: An individual allows negative results discourage him or her into thinking, â€œThis isn’t working, and there is nothing I can do.”
DISRUPTIONS: An individual experiences significant change to his or her current pattern (e.g., vacations, holidays, illness, weekends).
SEDUCTION OF SUCCESS: An individual begins to focus on positive results and begins to think, â€œI’m the special one. I have finally figured out how to have great results with not so great process.”

If a person experiences an interruption that sends him or her back to the fight thru, winning 2 or 3 fight thru’s will bring him or her back to second nature.

So, in summary, the truth is that it will probably take you anywhere from two months to eight months to build a new behavior into your life — not 21 days.

The good news?   Building better habits is not an all-or-nothing process.  You can mess up and fight thru and get right back on track.

What healthy habit are you planning for 2015?  For some great deals on common resolutions, check out our SHARE THE HEALTH 2015 page here, get inspired and get started today!



Retail marketer who loves shopping, fashion, design, travel and dining out. NOLA native, Francophile, and DC-lover living in Charlotte since 1998. Married to a die-hard Wahoo for over 25 years, mother of one Princeton Tiger, a labradoodle and two cats. I'm the creator & editor of scoopcharlotte and scoopthelake - if you think you'd like to join our program, email me at scoopcharlotte [at] today!