How habits are formed and changed revealed
A new study has revealed how we form habits and change existing ones and that they emerge through associative learning.
According to the study, about 40 percent of people's daily activities are performed each day in almost the same situations, as habit is automatic and we don't always recognize habits in our own behavior.
Wendy Wood said that we find patterns of behavior that allow us to reach goals. We repeat what works, and when actions are repeated in a stable context, we form associations between cues and response and habits have a recognizable neural signature.
She said that when a person is learning a response, they engage their associative basal ganglia, which involves the prefrontal cortex and supports working memory so a decision can be made and when the behavior is repeated in the same context, the information is reorganized in their brain and shifts to the sensory motor loop that supports representations of cue response associations, and no longer retains information on the goal or outcome.
However, the study found that when the habitual mind is engaged, our habits function largely outside of awareness. We can't easily articulate how we do our habits or why we do them, and they change slowly through repeated experience.
According to Wood, there are three main principles to consider when effectively changing habitual behavior. First, one must derail existing habits and create a window of opportunity to act on new intentions. Someone who moves to a new city or changes jobs has the perfect scenario to disrupt old cues and create new habits. When the cues for existing habits are removed, it's easier to form a new behavior. If you can't alter your entire environment by switching cities-- make small changes.
The second principle is remembering that repetition is key and studies have shown it can take anywhere from 15 days to 254 days to truly form a new habit. Lastly, there must be stable context cues available in order to trigger a new pattern.
(Posted on 10-08-2014)