How Long Does It Take to Break a Habit?


The year’s just started and you probably have a few resolutions like working out 3 times a week or learning a new skill. Or maybe there’s a habit that you’re looking to give up like drinking coffee, smoking, or late-night snacking. It definitely starts out difficult but it gets easier over time so let’s take a look at how long it takes to break a habit along with some tips for success. 


How Long Does it Take to Break a Habit?

There are a number of factors that can affect this such as the complexity of the habit, how long you’ve been doing it, the way you might be able to justify it, along with other personal factors. 

There was a popular belief that it took 21 days to break a habit, leaving many frustrated after three weeks. Fortunately, the 21-day rule has been widely disproven and its origins may not be all that useful for people looking to give up deeply entrenched behaviors. 

Breaking a habit is similar to forming a new one and estimates for that range from 18 days all the way to 254 days


Tips to Help You Break a Habit


Know Your “Why”

As with achieving your goals, breaking a tough habit requires you to ask yourself why you would even want to and come up with an answer. This may take a bit of time and soul searching but it will be a key factor in staying motivated when things get difficult. 

Once you’ve determined your reason, write it down in a journal or even better on a vision board where you can see it every day and remind yourself why you’re on this journey to a better you. 


Understand Your Habit Triggers

Knowing what triggers you to take part in your habit is just as important as understanding why you want to quit. For example, is smoking or eating junk food a way of coping with workplace stress? 

In that case, long-term, you may benefit from looking at what you can do to address your workplace stress directly, whether it’s bringing attention to a specific situation, looking for a new job or changing industries. 


Adjust Your Environment

You can further enhance your chance of habit-breaking success by adjusting your living, working, and social environment to avoid triggers and temptations. 

If video games are the culprit, consider handing your console off to a friend or family member. If it’s too difficult to pass your favorite fast food place without stopping in, try taking a different route. In short, avoid the temptation. 


Make a Plan and Take Small Steps

If you don’t currently exercise, it’s probably not realistic to start running 5 miles per day. And in that same way, quitting a deeply entrenched habit overnight can be just as unrealistic. 

When goal setting, an action plan is often broken down into small steps of progress on the way there. When you apply that to breaking a habit, it might be in milestones like 1 week of not eating out and then 1 month or perhaps ramping down.


Acknowledge and Celebrate Milestones

Breaking a habit is an accomplishment. So it’s best to treat it like one rather than going cold turkey and deciding “This is the new me. Nothing to see here.” 

Keeping track of and celebrating milestones like a month without fast food or a week without smoking will help when the going gets tough. Just don't celebrate by indulging in the habit you're trying to give up. 


Tap into Your Support System

Many success gurus discuss the virtues of quiet achievement with mottos like “Don’t tell. Do” but when you’re trying to tackle a tough habit, it is absolutely worth trying to do the opposite and telling your friends and family of your intentions. 

Perhaps a friend or family member even has their own habit they’re trying to give up. You can both make it a joint effort and hold each other accountable. 


Let Go of Perfectionism

The path towards your goals won’t be a straight line. It’ll probably veer back and forth along the way. But getting there is what’s important. All this is to say that breaking your bad habits over the long run will require you to let go of perfectionism. 

Beating yourself up and giving up over minor setbacks means you’re more likely to fail. When you get off track, figure out how to get back on and keep going. Any long-term goal including giving up a bad habit requires consistency and forgiveness. 


Take Advantage of Technology

Let’s say you just moved and don’t have a support system of friends and family nearby to help with your habit-breaking efforts. In this case, there are apps like Days Since for Apple or Quitzilla for Android. 


Bottom Line

Breaking a bad habit might not be a straightforward process with a clear timeline and set of steps. But better health, or other outcomes will make the effort worth it. 


This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to be used as medical advice. If you have immediate concerns about your health, please seek the help of your physician.