How Long Does It Really Take To Build New Habits?

Visualize everything you did this morning. You might have brewed a cup of coffee, brushed your teeth, checked your phone, or followed your regular skincare routine.

These are all habits that you probably give little thought to while doing them — they just come naturally, while you're on autopilot. Habit researcher Wendy Wood told Behavioral Scientist that 43% of people's actions are habits performed while they're thinking of something else. So while brushing your teeth, you're likely paying little attention to the brushing motion you're making. Instead, you're mentally manifesting your true love or stressing over an upcoming work meeting.


Habits can be beneficial or detrimental to our well-being, and as Psychology Today points out, they can be changed to complement our goals and values. However, forming new healthy habits requires commitment and repetition over time for them to become second nature. But exactly how long does it take to build new habits, and how can you speed up the process?

How long it takes to make a habit stick

If new habits could be built in a day, more of us would probably be living the ultra-healthy "that girl" lifestyle we fantasize about. In reality, it takes time for habits to stick. According to Forbes, a pervasive myth exists that it takes only 21 days of repeating a task for it to become a habit. The myth grew out of a misunderstanding of work done by a man named Dr. Maxwell Maltz, which did not conclude that 21 days is the magic number those building new habits should strive for. Despite being a misinterpretation, the 21-day rule persisted.


Research on habit formation offers a different timeline, however. A 2009 study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology found that it takes people anywhere from 18 to 254 days to build a new habit, though the average time required for an action to become automatic was 66 days. The study also concluded (unsurprisingly) that simple habits, like drinking a glass of water every morning, are easier to create than more challenging or complicated ones.

Tips for creating new habits in no time

If you don't want to wait 254 days — or even two months — to adopt a new habit, there are a few hacks that might help speed things up. According to James Clear, author of the best-selling book "Atomic Habits," it's best to start small. Break a big goal into smaller tasks, and begin with one task that requires little motivation. Or take a challenging habit, like reading for an hour every day, and shrink it down to make it more manageable, like reading for only five minutes each day. Once you've formed a small habit, you can gradually increase it.


Experts also recommend habit stacking to make a healthy habit stick (via Real Simple). Habit stacking works by taking one existing habit and attaching a new habit to it. For example, you might decide to listen to educational audiobooks during your daily commute or do a two-minute meditation while you wait for your coffee to brew every morning.

Finally, behavior change expert Katy Milkman advises being flexible when needed, per CNN. While you may assume that a habit must be performed at the same time every day for it to be successful, she suggests allowing for variability, changing up how or when you perform a habit to keep things fresh. Milkman also suggests giving yourself permission to occasionally take days off when life is extra hectic. Remember, one missed day doesn't equate to failure.