Scientific research reveals time taken to break a habit

Fareeha Arshad

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Daily habits are what make our daily routine. Every single act we commit ourselves to doing every day forms a habit. Needless to say, some habits are good for our physical and mental well-being – like working out every day, taking care of our teeth, and eating healthy.

Nevertheless, some discouraging habits are not suitable for us, like smoking, consuming insane amounts of alcohol, or over-eating. Because such habits are not suitable for our health, it is necessary to cut them down.

However, making a good habit and breaking a bad one is one of the most challenging tasks. For example, how do you convince yourself to get over an addiction even though you know it is not suitable for you? More importantly, how long does it take to break the bad habit?

Several mobile applications have been known to help people form a habit or break them. Most of these apps are based on the assumption that all you would need is twenty-one days to make or break a habit. However, is it true?

The first time this observation was put forward was by a plastic surgeon, Maxwell Maltz, who mentioned in his book, Psycho-Cybernetics, that most of his patients would take an average of twenty-one days to get used to the new changes in their appearance.

However, as per a 2009 study, there is no specific time during which you can ultimately make or break a habit. Through an intensive study by the University College London, researchers concluded that it takes anywhere between 18 to 254 days to stick to a habit. This means that you do not give up on a habit when it does not work out for a couple of weeks or even three: because sometimes that is not enough.

The same is for breaking a habit. If anything, making and breaking a habit are closely linked. Breaking a habit is almost like forming a new habit where you constantly avoid doing something you did before. This means if you are trying to break a habit, give yourself a month at the least and keep going.

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I am a scientist by profession and a historian by passion. I write about current affairs, history, science, and lifestyle.

Texas State
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