Psychological Research On Habit Formation

Habit Formation

Forming habit may be difficult. We often mask our bad habits as personality traits or take them casually, but they could be expressions of deep loneliness or fear. This happens a lot in the youth, as they are generally disenfranchised from what’s going on. They are stressed out to a point of no-return as they are told to perform and excel at everything. However, if you are a member of a band, or want to excel in a certain project – you need to remember to work hard. Working will make you feel really good after you complete a certain task or win at a certain job.

Working regularly is what we like to form as habits. Whether it’s waking up early, or leaving from office on time. We need to put in input to get output, so that we can stick to our goals and exceed our expectations. Whether that’s weight loss or performing better in our workplace, we need to be able to have a strong habit-formation technique that helps us out in the long-term. Here are some psychological studies and strategies to help you create and stick to a particular habit.

The Habit Loop model

In his new book, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, Charles Duhigg, a New York Times writer and M.B.A. degree holder, describes how changing the loop can make you more productive and instinctual as a person. Once you figure out what your loop says about you, you can develop changes in your habits that create a positive loop. E.g. if you wake up in the morning and check your phone, you can avoid checking your phone until after 12 Pm. This break in the loop may actually allow you to snap out of it and create a new loop based on another task you choose.

Starbucks employees sometimes get overwhelmed when a customer screams at them. Their default habit-loop is usually to get scared and do whatever the customer asks them to do. However, Starbucks intentionally designed a new loop and called it LATTE – Listen, acknowledge, take action, thank them, and explain what you’ve done. This has helped calm down customers and given more power to the servers who were making the coffee.

The researcher also explains the importance of a keystone habit. This is something that’s time-bound and measurable. This is probably one of the more effective techniques in the Habit-Loop strategy. This basically means that you need to create a bunch of mini-goals that you do for yourself and then create a focused approach to winning them. When you finish a bunch of mini-goals you get a boost of confidence and are more likely to continue with your long-term vision.

Setting goals and commitments

Another interesting piece of work titled “Psychology of Habit” by Professors Wendy Wood and Dennis Runger from USC Los Angeles, focuses on the learned behavior of our mind. I.e. when we start to make small changes in our commitments and goal settings, we can give rise to bigger ones and make effective change. The research also points out that if we fail to set these small daily goals, then we can spiral further into our older habits and may need to work harder to achieve them again. This explains why a lot of younger people find it difficult to commit to a habit. They instead rely on default ones and consistently break their own promises.

This is key here – when you do break a commitment to yourself you can expect the same results as you did when you didn’t form the goals in the first place. So it’s important to set goals that are achievable and then to achieve them daily. You don’t have to compete with yourself, but rather set high standards for yourself to achieve. This helps in restructuring your mind and creating new neural pathways that can create stronger habits.

 BJ Fogg’s 3Rs

Reminder, routine and reward – how often do we fall into this trap? We see a buzzing sound on our phones, we are reminded that it may be a new text or a Facebook notification, we follow our routine of distracting ourselves and we ultimately reward ourselves with the dopamine juice of checking our Facebook feed. It is this exact loop that we need to break in order to become more successful. If we don’t do so, then our 3R brain will continue down the same path. So the next time that you get a thought in your mind and it’s about work or studying – follow it. Follow it and you can have a positive reminder (to work), set a routine (finish the work), and receive the reward (happiness and ROI). This new habit also relies on the same model but is a more positive one and requires less effort when it becomes a habit.


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