How long does it take to form a habit?

Adjusting to change and new behaviors don’t just happen overnight. In fact, forming a successful habit can depend on the change you’re trying to implement. This is because certain habits take longer to form.

It can also depend on the type of person you are, since some people find forming habits easier than others. A repeated routine, the same schedule and consistent behaviors aren’t for everyone – and that’s fine. But how long does it take to form a habit? 

In this article, the team at Instant Knockout Academy take a closer look at how habits work and the best tips to get you onto healthy habits that can improve how you feel and look.

In particular, we take a look at fitness as a habit and the best strategies for sticking with your workouts, healthy eating and generally being more active! Essentially, we want to provide a detailed answer to the question, how long does it take to form a habit?

Let’s get into it.

Habits: How do they work?

According to Charles Duhigg, the writer of international bestseller The Power Of Habit, a habit is a ‘choice that we deliberately make at some point, and then stop thinking about, but continue doing, often every day. Put another way, a habit is a formula our brain automatically follows.’1

When you form a habit, it means you carry out this action with no thought. You’re in ‘autopilot’, performing responses that come from subconscious processes in your brain. A good example would be to think about the first thing you do in the morning – do you make coffee? Or perhaps you hop straight into the shower? Whatever it is, your automatic pilot guides you through these actions.

One study suggests ‘habits actions are triggered automatically in response to contextual clues that have been associated with their performance.’2

Another way to think about it is when you try a new task for the first time. You use a lot of brain power and attention initially, but as soon as we understand how the task works and how best to tackle it, it becomes more automatic and the mental energy required to do it decreases significantly.

Your brain likes habits, simply because they’re efficient and you can free up mental resource for other tasks.

How long it really takes to form a habit

Now that we know more about how habits work, how long does it take to get them to stick? As we all know, forming new habits isn’t easy – especially healthy ones that are really good for us. But anything worth doing is going to take some time and work.

Firstly, the most important thing to remember is to just start. Put all your effort into making that first move. Second, it’s important to get some sort of reward or positive feedback from your habit – right away. Find a way to enjoy it, focus on the positive aspects of it and it’ll soon become a normal part of your everyday.

It can be a frustrating process as you wait for these changes to become more automatic. And contrary to popular belief, the timeframe of forming habit isn’t a solid 21 days.

In fact, according to one study, it can take anywhere between 18 days to 254 days for someone to form a new habit. The study also suggested that on average, it can actually take about 66 days for a new routine to become automatic3.

It’s important to remember though, there’s no ‘one size-fits-all’ when it comes to habits and timeframes can differ for people. The one that matters most is the one that works for you.

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Tips and tricks to make fitness a lasting habit

If you’re just getting started with a new weight management plan or need some motivation to keep going, we’ve put together the best ‘tricks of the trade’ to help!

With these five tips, you can make fitness a lasting habit – and you’ll wonder how it was never a fundamental part of your lifestyle before.

#1 Start as you mean to go on

If your plan is to get to the gym three times a week, start going three times a week. Don’t build up to the days, just go straight in and hit it.

Remember, with habits, repetition is key4, as is removing cues that could disrupt your goal. The more you repeat your new behavior, such as exercising three times a week, the more likely it’ll become something you do automatically!

#2 Make it personal

When it comes to exercise, it doesn’t need to be all about the gym. As long as you’re moving your body, that counts!

If you enjoy doing something too, you’re much more likely to keep doing it. You’re unlikely to make working out a habit if you keep doing something you don’t enjoy and it doesn’t suit your personality.

Try to pinpoint exactly what you like when you exercise – is it classes? Working out with a partner? Perhaps you prefer fast-paced sessions or you’re a bit competitive and a local sport activity would suit you best? Give it a personal touch and you’re much more likely to enjoy it – thus making it become a habit.

#3 Become accountable

Taking responsibility for your exercise sessions and your nutrition can give you added incentive to stay committed to your targets – and actually achieve real results.

Plan some workout time each week, on set days and set times. Keep a food journal and track what you eat. Let your friends or family know what you’re trying to achieve and make them check in with you.

If you have friends with the same health goals, make them your accountability buddy and work with each other to drive momentum. You could exchange workouts, healthy recipes and even exercise together. Having someone else working alongside you will help you feel much more motivated and like you’re in this together.

How long does it take to form a habit

#4 Reward your efforts

Some fitness rewards come naturally – like that rush of endorphins after a workout. Over time, you’ll look to crave that feeling and become more consistent. However, there are other ways to create mini wins.

First, when we say reward yourself, we don’t mean binging on a huge pizza after a heavy workout. You could create your own, healthy rewards such as buying new headphones, having a glass of wine with dinner or treating yourself to some new workout gear.

#5 Focus on the habit first, then the results

Sometimes, we’re so consumed by the thought of losing weight and looking our best that we end up giving up when it doesn’t happen quickly enough. It’s time to switch up this mindset and remember, progress can take time.

Instead, focus on implementing tiny, consistent (and healthy) changes and the results will come.

The bottom line

Forming habits isn’t easy – it takes time and you might not see much progress right away.

The best way to start is to do the easiest possible habit first. That could be anything from drinking a glass of water first thing in the morning to going for a daily walk. Remember that healthy behaviors are good for you and will add up to the results you want over time.

And if you need someone or something to keep you accountable with your fitness? Instant Knockout Cut is the perfect training partner to do just that.