How long does it really take to break a habit?
J Thoendell stashed this in Science
While we know it's possible to break a habit, the task often feels insurmountable when we face the challenge by ourselves. One popular claim is that a habit can be broken in only 21 days, an idea that seems to reference Psycho-Cybernetics, a 1960 self-help book written by cosmetic surgeon Maxwell Maltz. Other vernacular accounts very from 72 hours to two weeks. But how long does it really take to break a habit? We got a reality check with a few experts in the fields of psychology, brain and behavioral sciences, and, of course, self-help.
There are a wide range of variables that determine how long it takes to break a habit with no simple answers.
First, it depends on how much you really want to break the habit. Many people are ambivalent. They want to lose weight, but they like the foods they eat. They want to reduce their alcohol consumption, but love their happy hour. They want to stop picking their nails, but it reduces stress for them. So, one important issue is how strongly do you really want to break the habit in question. Second, how established is the problem habit? It is easier to break a new habit than an old one. Third, what are the consequences of not breaking the habit? Will a partner leave you? Will you lose a job? Will you get sick? Will something really bad happen if you don't change?
Yes, there's a name for chronic nail-biting.
It's called "onychophagia," from the Greek onycho-(the combining form of "nail" or "claw") and -phagy (the suffix form of "to eat").
Breaking a habit really means establishing a new habit, a new pre-potent response.
The old habit or pattern of responding is still there (a pattern of neuron responses in the brain), but it is less dominant (less potent).