How long does it take to form a habit? One recent study came up with an answer. Participants of the study were asked to pick a behavior that they wanted to turn into a habit such as “walking for 10 minutes after breakfast”. The participants were the asked to perform the habit every day for 12 weeks and note how automatic the behavior had become each day (to judge how habitual it had become).
The average amount of time it took a behavior to become a habit was 66 days. The amount of time did vary substantially though, between extremes of 18 to an estimated 254 days. To decrease the amount of time it takes to turn a behavior into a habit, the researchers recommend consistently pairing a situational cue like eating breakfast with your desired behavior.
The researchers also found that the automaticity of a habit increases with each repetition, although, by a smaller amount each time, until the automaticity reaches a plateau. Encouragingly, missing one opportunity to perform the behavior did not materially affect the habit formation process.
Lally, Phillippa; Van Jaarsveld, Cornelia H.M.; Potts, Henry W.W.; Wardle, Jane. How are Habits Formed: Modelling Habit Formation in the Real World. European Journal of Social Psychology. Vol 40(6), Jul 2009, 998-1009.