So how long does it truly take to get rid of this intangible thing?
Habits are mentally efficient processes that develop as a way to conserve mental resources. It’s our brain on auto-pilot — like how you make your coffee the same way each and every morning, or do your daily skincare routine. Habits form around things we do regularly without employing too many brain cells.
Sure, 21 days sounds great. After all, who doesn’t want to stop biting their nails, spending money on take out when you have veggies in the fridge, or snoozing your alarm in just three short weeks?
We’re sorry to disappoint you, my loves, but the real answer is that breaking a bad habit — or creating a new and improved one — depends on the habit itself, and how the change is instigated.
A 2012 study showed that a more realistic timeline for breaking a bad habit is 10 weeks (or approximately 70 days). We know that’s 15 times longer than the voyage of the Titanic (which only sailed for four days), but it’s important to go into the idea of breaking a bad habit with openness and honesty. We don’t want you hitting any icebergs.
Life can be hard, darling! So it’s important to track your good days. It can be easy to lose motivation without a physical reminder of how well you are doing. One way to track your daily progress is with a “positivity jar.” With a simple jar and a set of marbles, stones, or even pieces of paper, this practice is easy to incorporate into your day! Simply place one marble in the jar for each day you were able to exist without slipping into your bad habit. When you find yourself struggling for motivation, take them out and count them, and know that every one of them represents an amazing step forward. If you decide to use paper, write the date and your mood on them. You’ll be amazed and surprised with how far you’ve come!
Find a replacement behavior — aka, put to use what we learned above about building new habits. Instead of trying to quit your candy addiction cold turkey, for example, you could try switching out something sweet and processed for something sweet and natural, like fruit. If you love soda, try switching to a low sugar option or carbonated water to get the same feeling. You’ll be satiating your brain’s desire to partake in the habit — while actually building something new.
Visualization is an important tool in the toolbox of life, and is very appropriate for habit formation! Visualize yourself succeeding in breaking a specific habit you’re struggling with. Practice smiling and feeling happy in this imagined moment. This simple exercise will prepare you for those other moments when faced with the difficult option to slip back into your bad habit. You’ve already done this — mentally, sure, but come on, you got this!
Involving others by verbalizing the habit you’re trying to break to a friend or family member is a great way to stay motivated. If you are trying to break the habit of eating a snack before bed, telling your partner or roommate may help (especially if they’re the one offering you a bowl of ice cream when you’re already in your PJs). Sometimes, sharing your goal of creating a new habit is the best way to stay on track.
Don’t give up! Remember the first time you did your multi-step face cleansing routine? It probably felt arduous, but if you stuck with it, you likely don’t even remember life before it. (And now you’re seeing all the benefits in your glow!) It’s become automated, like brushing your teeth daily or putting on pants. After some time, you won’t even notice the mental work you’re putting in as your new habit takes over the old one.
As always, be kind to yourself. Habits are repetitive, so if you mess up, it doesn’t mean you’re starting over from zero. Negatively talking to yourself is never the answer, so be gentle on yourself and pick it back up. You can do it!