Have you heard the saying that it takes 21 days to develop a new habit? If so, you might be wondering if there’s much truth to it — especially if you’re trying to create healthy habits yourself. Read on to find out more.
If you want to create healthy habits — and stick to them — you’ll need to make them part of your everyday routine. If you’re not used to eating healthy, exercising regularly or getting enough sleep — creating healthy habits might seem daunting.
But fear not! With the right tools and enough practice, you can create long-lasting habits that can support your weight loss efforts and improve your overall health. We’re revealing how long it really takes to build healthy habits and five foolproof ways to develop them.
How long does it take to create a new habit?
Does it really take 21 days to form a new habit? Where did 21 days even come from? Interestingly, this myth originated from a popular book written by a plastic surgeon in the 1950s, Dr. Maxwell Maltz, who explained, “It requires a minimum of 21 days for an old mental image to dissolve and a new one to jell.”1
However, research published in the European Journal of Social Psychology dispels the idea, noting that on average, it takes a person 66 days to form a new habit.2 And not everyone is the same: The study’s 96 participants took anywhere from 18-254 days to build a new habit. The small study also found that more complex habits (for example, exercising) took longer to develop than eating or drinking habits.2
While there might not be an exact timeline when it comes to creating new habits, consistently practicing them is key. Here’s how to make your new healthy habits stick.
Creating healthy habits: 5 tips that work
1. Clearly define your goal and understand your motivation.
Before you begin, you must first define your goal. For example, eating healthier is a great habit to create, but what exactly does that look like for you? What habits do you have now that you want to change or improve? Perhaps you want to reduce your sugar intake, eat non-starchy vegetables at every meal, reduce your junk food intake or watch your portion sizes. Maybe it’s a combination of a couple of different things like drinking eight glasses of water a day and working out for 30 minutes. Whatever you want to focus on, make it as clear as possible so you know exactly what you need to do to create this new habit.
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Pro tip: Choose something sustainable and realistic. Avoid an “all or nothing” goal like never eating sugar again. Fad diets often fail for this very reason — they are quick fixes that do not focus on long-lasting, healthy changes.
Don’t forget to identify your “why!” If you don’t have a true motivation for making this change, it may be harder to stick to. Think about why you want to start practicing this healthy habit. Is it to improve your blood pressure? Fit into your favorite pair of jeans again? To be more physically active so you can keep up with your kids? Discover your motivation — and when you feel like giving up, remember why you started.
2. Make a plan and write it down.
Now that you’ve identified your goal, it’s time to create an actionable plan. For instance, if your goal is to reduce your sugar intake, you might plan to cut back on drinking sugar-sweetened beverages such as soda. Or, if you want to start exercising more often, you could choose to go for a walk three times a week after work. Be as specific as possible!
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Get a journal (we love bullet journaling, especially for weight loss) and write down your goals so you can keep track of your progress. When you practice your healthy habit — jot down how you feel. Do you feel accomplished? Confident? Notice the positive feelings associated with your new habit.
Pro tip: Don’t forget to pat yourself on the back — it takes determination to break unhealthy habits. Celebrate every victory along the way no matter how big or small!
3. Start small and keep it manageable.
Committing to better health is exciting — and it should be! But being overly ambitious at the onset could sabotage your efforts. It can be beneficial to build on top of the habits you already have, according to the Mayo Clinic.3 By slowly integrating new practices into your routine, you’ll avoid feeling overwhelmed, and ultimately, avoid burnout.
Let’s revisit the sugar example. If you currently drink a soda every day, giving up soda cold turkey might be challenging. So, start by swapping a couple of sodas a week with seltzer water or unsweetened iced tea instead. Slowly increase the number of days you make the swap. Continue to do this until you have stopped drinking soda altogether. You don’t have to eliminate everything at once!
4. Find an accountability partner.
Will you continue your healthy habits when no one is watching? What about when you’re out to dinner with friends? The Mayo Clinic reports that having supportive people in your life is the key to making healthy, long-term lifestyle changes.4
Having an accountability partner can help you stay on track and keep you honest. Whether it’s a friend, a family member or a Jenny Craig weight loss coach, choose a partner who will be there when you need some motivation or advice. Check out these 6 benefits of weight loss accountability and why it works.
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5. Be kind to yourself. Slipping up is part of the journey.
Repeat after us, no one is perfect. Life happens! So you ate a few too many cookies or you skipped a workout — that is OK! You will make mistakes. And that’s perfectly normal. It takes time, patience and practice to develop healthy habits. The important thing is that you get right back on track — that is how to make healthy habits stick. Accepting and understanding that you will slip up is part of the journey. Remember, you’ve got this!
Do you need help creating healthier habits? Chat with a Jenny Craig weight loss coach! Our program is designed to teach you healthy lifestyle habits for life. With balanced meal plans and dedicated coaches, you’ll get everything you need to succeed! Get started with Jenny Craig for as little as $12.99 a day. View plans.
Elisa is a content marketing manager for Jenny Craig with over ten years of experience working in the health and fitness industry. She loves sharing her passion for living a balanced and healthy lifestyle. An endurance sports enthusiast, she is usually swimming in the pool, biking along the coast highway or running by the beach in her free time. Elisa holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from California State University, Chico.
Favorite healthy snack: mozzarella string cheese with a Pink Lady apple
Monica Ropar, Nutritionist
Monica has over 15 years of experience with Jenny Craig, as an expert nutrition and program resource. She develops content, training, tools and strategies for the program to support clients throughout their weight loss journey, and offers inspiration, weight loss tips, lifestyle strategies and motivation. Monica holds a Bachelor of Science degree with a double major in Dietetics and Exercise, Fitness & Health from Purdue University and continues to stay current on weight management research, consumer trends and healthcare developments.
Favorite healthy snack: raw veggie sticks with homemade hummus
This article is based on scientific research and/or other scientific articles and was written by an experienced health and lifestyle contributor and reviewed by certified professionals.
Our goal at Jenny Craig is to provide the most up-to-date and objective information on health-related topics, so our readers can make informed decisions based on factual content. All articles undergo an extensive review process, and depending on the topic, are reviewed by a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) or Nutritionist, to ensure accuracy.
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Edited by Elisa - Jenny Craig