hab·it | \ ˈha-bət \
- : a settled tendency or usual manner of behavior
- a : an acquired mode of behavior that has become nearly or completely involuntary got up early from force of habit
b : ADDICTION
Habits can be both healthy (think daily meditation), or dangerous (think smoking a pack of cigarettes a day). When does a casual, yet frequent indulgence become a detrimental habit? According to researchers in London, it’s just over two months, which means it can be easier than you may think to form an addictive habit.
Researchers at University College London set out to challenge a previous study, that had evolved overtime into a commonly held, but misunderstood belief that it takes 21 days to form a habit. The findings from the study, published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, found that on average, it takes 66 days before a new behavior becomes automatic. The University College London researchers studied the habits of 96 participants over a period of 12 weeks. Each participant chose a single new habit and over the course of the study reported daily as to whether or not they did the behavior and how automatic the behavior felt.
The study further identified that the length of time necessary to form a habit can also vary widely depending on the habit itself. While 66 days was the average, in reality, it may take anywhere from 21 days to 240 for a habit to stick.
Breaking a Bad Habit
The best way to protect yourself from a bad habit, is never to form it. If, for example, you have recently begun smoking socially, casually, or occasionally, spend time documenting and reflecting on your habits. Do you truly only smoke when socializing with friends, or your occasional post-dinner cigarette becoming a daily post-dinner cigarette, or two or three? Changing your behaviors before a habitual mindset is formed, will be easier than breaking a longer held and more ingrained habit later on.
How to Break a Bad Habit
If you are ready to quit smoking, recreational drug use, or alcohol overuse, know that you can always seek professional support and guidance from an addiction treatment facility or counselor. In addition, follow these habit-breaking best practices:
- Replace it with something positive. If you crave a post-workday cigarette as a stress-reliever, go for a run, meditate, or do yoga after work instead.
- If your negative habit was formed as a consequence of boredom, fill up your time with hobbies, friends, and family members who offer a positive and supportive distraction. Volunteering for a critical cause in your community can also offer you a nicotine-free environment and a purpose to embrace.
- Eliminate triggers. If you associate a bad habit with another activity, avoid that trigger to reduce episodes of temptation. For example, if you only smoke when you drink after visiting bars with your friends, find other venues at which to socialize with your friends and avoid the circumstances that motivate you to smoke.
Remember, it may take weeks or months to form a bad habit, but it may take just as long or longer to break it. In addition to lifestyle changes, the most important step you can take to be successful in addiction recovery is seeking out a support network and resources to help you succeed.