How long does it take to change a habit?

Habits make or break us because they are actions or activities we do repeatedly. Therefore, good habits regularly enrich and better our lives. Bad habits do the opposite. Sometimes bad habits aren’t really “bad” in the sense a vice or addiction can be dysfunctional. Rather, some habits are “bad” because they keep us from achieving financial freedom, optimum health, or full happiness.

I’ve changed a few habits over the past couple of years and am in the process of changing a few more. Some of the habits I’ve changed include:

  • Eating out all the time. The Mr. and I used to spend waaaaay too much money eating out. We didn’t cook at home enough. Now we meal plan, grocery shop weekly, and eat out about once a week at the most.
  • Buying lattes all the time. This is related to the first point. I used to buy a latte on my way to work. Every. Single. Day. At about $4.00 a piece (with tip) this was roughly $80 a month.
  • Drinking caffeine. Obviously related to the point above. First, I transitioned into making French pressed coffee at home. Now I’m still making coffee at home, but I’m switching to decaf.
  • Shopping as a leisure past time. I still love to shop. But I don’t make a habit of this the way I used to.
  • Buying lunch every day. Are you seeing a pattern here? I think I used to spend around $75-$100 a month on lunches.
  • Staying up too late. I’m a night owl by nature. My body naturally wants to stay up until about 2am every night. This doesn’t really work when I have to get up at 6am every day. I used to still stay up late on weekends and sleep in, which wrecked havoc with my sleep schedule.

Those are just some of my habits that I’ve changed or am working on changing. In the case of grocery shopping, it took me several months to find joy in meal planning and cooking at home. It was really hard to stop going out all the time. The first few weeks were painful. I felt deprived and grumpy. Now, I couldn’t imagine it any other way. I love coming home from work and knowing I am in for the night. I love how much more money we can save, and how much healthier we can eat.

Quitting the daily latte was also painful at first. When I first stopped going every morning, I actually became convinced that the coffee shop had been putting MSG in the lattes or something because I craved them sooooo bad. Now, I’m happy after a cup of decaf at home. This took a few months too.

Going to bed at a reasonable hour is actually the hardest habit for me to break. I’m just wired to be up late. In fact, if I stay up until 11pm I get a second wind and it is even harder for me to fall asleep than if I had hit the hay at 10pm. I just love being up late. I get a lot of ideas at night and feel active. So, this is still a process for me and is one of the reasons I’ve cut back substantially on my caffeine intake. I’ve also given up my nightly glass of wine with dinner because I find I actually get sleepier without alcohol. I’m also going to bed at a reasonable time on weekends and I try to be up by 8am at the latest on Saturdays and Sundays.

For me, most habits take about two months to fully break to the point that I don’t think about the old habit anymore. What about you? How long does it take you to break habits?

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6 Responses to How long does it take to change a habit?

  1. Elizabeth says:

    I’m also trying to break the caffeine and staying up late cycle! I was just diagnosed with TMJ and one of the things that I have to do is cut caffeine out of my diet. I adore Diet Coke and my morning tea, so this is so hard! Sort of in connection to that is trying to go to sleep earlier so I can get a good start to the day. It’s very hard; I too am a night owl. Too many years in college and grad school were spent staying up late and sleeping in. It’s coming along, but very slowly!

  2. I stay up late too, and at age 58 I’ve finally learned there’s almost nothing I can do to get my body used to going to bed early, although I’m not up as late as I was when I was younger. It took a long time for me to figure that out though. I still have to get up early these days, but rather than use my nights for brain-intensive or creative activities, I relax with a good book. If I fall asleep, I fall asleep; if I don’t then I’ve gotten some reading done and I still wake up feeling OK. I’ve also cut out most of the caffeine, Diet Coke, and only have a small glass of wine early in the evening, but I’m still a night owl.

    I just discovered your blog recently and have enjoyed reading your posts. We’re also located in SE PDX, in a walk-friendly location that’s unfortunately not very close to anything, so I envy you that.

    • Lindsay says:

      Welcome to a fellow Portlander! I try to read at night too and find it really does help. I have to start slowing my brain down around 10pm at the latest, and I try to turn off the TV by then. A good book or magazine can help ease me into slumber.

  3. Starr says:

    Hi Lindsay,

    I read your post and thought about how our habits were similar.

    My habits that needed tweaking were:
    1) Eating out 6-7 days a week. And if we didn’t eat out, it was likely because we ate the leftover food from the day before.
    2) Weighing 25 pounds more than I would like to weight.
    3) Exercising about 1-2 times per month.
    4) Getting 6 hours or less of sleep each night.
    5) Drinking 0-1 glasses (0-8 ounces) of water per day
    6) Eating 1-2 serving of vegetables per day (french fries count as vegetables)
    7) Shopping 4-5 days per week and spending an average of $950 per month on shopping

    Update on my “Habit Tweaking” after 6 weeks
    1) We are eating out 2 times per week on a $50 total weekly budget
    2) I have lost 14 pounds
    3) My husband and I exercise 7 days per week
    4) No change
    5) I drink 4 bottles of water per day (67.6 ounces per day)
    6) I have been eating 5-6 servings of vegetables per day. I gave up fried foods, sweets, & meat.
    7) I have a budget of $80 per month to shop with, and have spend $0 for the last month

    • Lindsay says:

      Hi Starr. It does sound like we had some similar habits. The one I still slip back into most frequently is eating out. It’s hard to give up because Portland has so many great restaurants.

      Congrats on making some really healthy changes in your life. Fourteen pounds in 6 weeks is quite impressive. I imagine you must have more energy as well with all the water, exercise, and healthy food.

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