Why We Tend to Form Habits

As friend and fellow blogger The Fab Sage and I have discussed  in countless e-mails, the dead weight of habit is one of the chief barriers to change. What we’ve done we tend to keep doing, even if so doing makes us feel anxious and guilty. I’ve written numerous posts on the challenge and difficulty of personal change, which I believe is closely intertwined with political and social change. More on that in my  Grand Interconnected Theory of Change.

Today’s NY Times brings another interesting take on change and habit, specifically how we form habits both good and bad,  which is an increasingly popular field of study today.  The piece reminds us that forming habits is deeply ingrained in human nature; in other words, part of what we’re fighting when we try to change is the very way the mind tends to work–and we wouldn’t have developed the ability to form habits if it didn’t have survival benefits.  That doesn’t mean change is impossible, but it always helps to know the true nature of the enemy. Key quote:

Researchers like Wendy Wood at Duke University and Brian Wansink at Cornell were examining how often smokers quit while vacationing and how much people eat when their plates are deceptively large or small.

Those and other studies revealed that as much as 45 percent of what we do every day is habitual — that is, performed almost without thinking in the same location or at the same time each day, usually because of subtle cues.

For example, the urge to check e-mail or to grab a cookie is likely a habit with a specific prompt. Researchers found that most cues fall into four broad categories: a specific location or time of day, a certain series of actions, particular moods, or the company of specific people. The e-mail urge, for instance, probably occurs after you’ve finished reading a document or completed a certain kind of task. The cookie grab probably occurs when you’re walking out of the cafeteria, or feeling sluggish or blue.

Our capacity to develop such habits is an invaluable evolutionary advantage. But when they run amok, things can become tricky.

 Check out the full article here  if you like.

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