How Long Does It Take To Break A Habit?

Habits, both good and bad, shape our daily lives. Whether it's reaching for that morning cup of coffee, scrolling through social media before bed, or hitting the gym after work, habits are ingrained in our routines.

But what happens when we want to break free from a habit that no longer serves us? How long does it take to break a habit, and what factors influence this process?

Understanding the Habit Loop

To comprehend the timeline of habit change, it's crucial to understand the habit loop, a concept popularized by Charles Duhigg in his book, "The Power of Habit." The loop consists of three stages: cue, routine, and reward. Breaking a habit involves disrupting this loop and replacing the old routine with a new, healthier one.

1. Cue:
The habit loop begins with a cue, which is essentially a trigger that prompts your brain to initiate a particular behavior. This trigger can be anything from a specific time of day, a particular emotion, a location, or even the company of certain people. Understanding what cues lead to the habit is crucial for unraveling the loop.

2. Routine:
The routine is the habitual behavior itself—the action that follows the cue. This is the part of the loop we often want to change. Whether it's reaching for a sugary snack when stressed or lighting a cigarette when feeling anxious, the routine is the visible manifestation of the habit.

3. Reward:
The reward is the positive reinforcement your brain associates with completing the routine. It could be the surge of energy from a cup of coffee, the sense of accomplishment from completing a task, or the fleeting pleasure from indulging in a bad habit. Identifying the specific reward is crucial because it's what reinforces the habit loop.

The 21-Day Myth

You may have heard that it takes 21 days to break a habit—a notion that has circulated widely. However, research suggests that the 21-day rule is more of a myth than a scientific fact. A study conducted by the University College London found that, on average, it takes about 66 days for a new behavior to become automatic. However, this timeline varies widely among individuals and depends on the complexity of the habit.

Factors Influencing Habit Change

Type of Habit:

Simple habits, such as drinking more water or taking the stairs, may be easier to break than complex ones like smoking or emotional eating.


Your level of motivation and commitment significantly impacts how quickly you can break a habit. A strong "why" can drive you through challenging times.


Your surroundings play a crucial role. Modifying your environment to support the desired change can make the process more manageable.

Support System:

Having a support system, whether it's friends, family, or a professional, can provide encouragement and accountability.

Mindfulness and Awareness:

Being mindful of your habit triggers and consciously choosing alternative behaviors enhances your ability to break the habit loop.

Tips for Successfully Breaking a Habit

Set Realistic Goals:

Break down your larger goal into smaller, achievable milestones. Celebrate your successes along the way.

Replace, Don't Remove:

Instead of focusing solely on eliminating a habit, find a healthier behavior to replace it. This makes the transition more manageable.

Track Your Progress:

Keep a journal or use habit-tracking apps to monitor your progress. Seeing how far you've come can be motivating.

Be Patient and Persistent:

Understand that habit change is a gradual process. Embrace setbacks as opportunities to learn and adjust your approach.


Breaking a habit is a personal journey that involves self-reflection, dedication, and resilience. While the idea of a fixed timeline might be appealing, it's essential to recognize the variability in individual experiences. By understanding the habit loop, considering influencing factors, and adopting effective strategies, you can embark on a successful habit-changing journey. Remember, the key lies not in how long it takes, but in the consistent effort and commitment you invest in the process.