So How Long Does it Really Take to Form a Habit?
Dr. and Owner of BeneFIT Physical Therapy, Brian Ireland, said when asked this question, “Once I realized that I have been living a lie all these years I started to wonder how long does it take to form a habit.”
He came across a research article led by Dr. Phillippa Lally titled: How are habits formed: Modeling habit formation in the real world written in 2010. The results are much more complex than a simple 21-day timeframe.
They found that among the 96 subjects it took about 66 days to form a habit! (That’s three times past the 21-day mark self-help gurus have been spreading for years). They also noticed that the subjects who were attempting to acquire a less demanding habit, such as drinking water after breakfast, were successful in creating that habit in a quicker time frame, in the case of the drinking water habit 20 days.
While the more challenging the habit was for the individual, the longer, it took to become a habit. Their study found that it took one subject 50 days to get in the habit of walking 10 minutes a day while another still did not achieve their habit of performing 50 sit ups a day by the end of the 84-day study.
Being researchers, they took their data and graphed it out further than their 84-day study and found that for the very challenging habits people had attempted changes could take up to 254 days!
That’s 70% of a year or almost 8 and a half months to create a habit of doing something that you currently struggle to accomplish now.
The Key to Forming the Exercise Habit
Ireland noticed in the Phillippa et al. study that the more exercise based habits people were trying to form tended to be the habits that took longer to develop. He started to search again for any research articles more closely aligned with forming the exercise habit.
He came upon a study, Exercise habit Formation in New Gym Members: A Longitudinal Study by Kaushal & Rhodes that was published in 2015.
In this study, they had 111 new gym members and had them fill out a survey over the course of 12 weeks. Their data found that it took the subjects going to the gym 4x/week for six weeks to establish the exercise habit.
They further concluded that trainers should keep the exercises fun and simple for new clients and to focus on consistency which could lead to the exercise habit formation in 6 weeks.
This study did define a time frame for creating an exercise habit but what I found to be more important was the study determined that over the course of the first six weeks the goal and focus of exercising should be on CONSISTENCY.
Dr. Phillippa et al. in their study on how habits are formed also noted that the earlier repetitions of the habit mattered more for the creation of the habit than did later repetitions. Also suggesting that early consistency is the key.
The Habit of Setting Yourself Up for Success
Now knowing that consistency is the key at the beginning of getting into your new fitness habit Ireland began to search to see if there were any studies that could help in becoming more consistent. He found a study by Judah et al. written in 2013 entitled Forming a flossing habit: An Exploratory Study of the Psychological determinants of Habit Formation.
This eight-month study divided the subjects into two groups: The first flossed immediately after brushing their teeth while the second had to floss their teeth at some point in their morning routine other than before brushing their teeth, for example right after getting out of the shower before getting dressed.
They found that the group who flossed after brushing had developed a much more automatic habit of flossing compared to those who had to floss beforehand. They concluded that the more conveniently placed your desired habit is placed throughout your current everyday routine the greater the likelihood you would succeed in forming your habit.
Conversely, they noted that attempting to create a habit that conflicts with your routine will have less of chance of succeeding.
Which makes sense to him and the team. Especially after talking to those people who just always seem to be able to work out regularly. If you listen carefully during those conversations a common theme starts taking shape.
You will hear some evidence of their habit repeated over and over again: “I hit the gym EVERY morning before work……I run EVERY Monday, Wednesday, and Friday rain or shine….I go to my spin class EVERY Monday and Friday at 6pm, I love that instructor…”.
Now that we have our goals in order and an idea of how to establish a fitness habit lets start discussing some groundwork towards creating your own fitness habit based on your goals!
Check back next week for our next blog post in our new BeneFIT PT’s Guide to Working Out Blog Series!