How Long It Takes to Cement a New Habit

The journey towards self-improvement often begins with the formation of new habits.

Whether it’s adopting a healthier diet, exercising regularly, or dedicating time to read each day, establishing new routines can significantly impact our lives. But just how long does it take to form a new habit? This article delves into the science behind habit formation, providing insights into how long it typically takes to establish new routines and the factors that can accelerate or hinder this process.

Understanding Habits

At its core, a habit is a behavior that has become automatic through repetition. The psychological pattern behind any habit can be broken down into three key components: the cue, the routine, and the reward. The cue triggers the behavior, the routine is the behavior itself, and the reward is the benefit received from the behavior, which reinforces the habit loop.

Neuroscientific research shows that habits are formed in the brain’s basal ganglia, a region that plays a key role in the development of emotions, memories, and pattern recognition. Initially, when a new behavior is repeated, it’s processed in the prefrontal cortex, the area responsible for decision-making and cognitive behavior. As the behavior becomes more automatic, the mental activity associated with it shifts to the basal ganglia, reducing the cognitive effort required and making the behavior more automatic.

The 21/90 Rule

One popular method for habit formation is the 21/90 rule. This rule suggests that if you commit to a habit for 21 days, it becomes familiar. If you can continue to apply this habit for a total of 90 days, it becomes a permanent lifestyle change. While this rule provides a good framework for setting goals, it’s important to note that the science behind habit formation is more complex, and the time it takes to form a habit can vary significantly depending on the behavior, the individual, and the circumstances.

Researchers at University College London found that, on average, it takes about 66 days for a new behavior to become automatic. However, this can vary widely depending on the complexity of the habit and the commitment of the individual. Simple habits like drinking a glass of water every morning might take less time to form than more complex ones like going for a run every day.

Factors That Affect Habit Formation

The formation of habits is not only about repetition. Several factors can influence how quickly a habit becomes ingrained. Personal motivation and the value of the reward are crucial; if an individual is highly motivated and the reward is significant, the new behavior is more likely to stick.

Environmental factors also play a critical role. A supportive environment that reduces barriers to performing the new behavior can significantly speed up the habit formation process. Conversely, an environment that does not support the new habit or even discourages it can greatly hinder progress.

Setting realistic and achievable goals is also vital for habit formation. Unrealistic goals can lead to frustration and early dropouts, while well-set goals can lead to quick wins that reinforce the behavior.

Practical Tips for Habit Formation

Consistency is key when trying to establish a new habit. Performing the behavior regularly without missing occasions helps reinforce the habit loop. Tracking progress, either through a journal or an app, can provide visual proof of success and can motivate you to keep going.

Reminders in the environment can serve as cues to perform the new behavior. This could be as simple as placing running shoes next to the bed to encourage a morning jog or setting up notifications to remind you to drink water every hour.

Handling setbacks effectively is also crucial. Instead of viewing lapses as failures, they should be seen as opportunities to learn and adjust strategies. This resilience can turn challenges into stepping stones towards successful habit formation.

Tools and Resources

Several tools can assist in tracking and maintaining new habits. Apps like Habitica use gamification to make habit formation fun, offering rewards and penalties to mimic the habit loop’s reward mechanism. Books like “Atomic Habits” by James Clear offer in-depth insights and practical strategies for habit formation.

Websites like Goals on Track provide platforms for setting goals and receiving guidance from coaches, which can be invaluable for those who need external motivation and accountability.


While forming new habits can be challenging, understanding the psychological and neuroscientific basis of how habits work can make the process easier. By setting realistic goals, leveraging environmental cues, and maintaining motivation through rewards and social support, anyone can change their life one habit at a time.

Now that you’ve learned about the intricacies of habit formation, why not put this knowledge into practice? Start by identifying one small habit you’d like to develop, use the strategies discussed, and observe how it transforms your life. Share your experiences and challenges in the comments below or join our social media discussion to connect with others on the same journey. Let’s build better habits together!

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