Updated: Jul 29, 2019
Old habits are hard to break, and new habits are hard to form.
Let’s picture ourselves at the grocery store after going home from work. At the fruit section we pick a plastic bag into which we put our apples, when we move to the cheese section we pick the one which is in a thick plastic packing, then grab bottled water because it is hot outside and at the end, we go to the cash register and pay. Our groceries do not fit into our bag, so we ask for an extra plastic bag from the cashier. Once we get home we end up with handful of unnecessary plastic.
Is it wrong? Why would it be, we all do it! We’ve been doing it ever since!
This is a habit which guides our behavior. We are locked into habit performance. Its automatic, we repeat our past behaviors with little regard to outcomes. The good news is that, through repetition, it's possible to form — and maintain — new habits.
WHAT DOES THE RESEARCH SAY?
About 45% of people's behavior is repeated almost daily and usually in the same context. Purchase and consumption are similarly repetitious. Consumers tend to buy the same brands of products across different shopping episodes, purchase the same amounts at a given retail store across repeat visits.
HOW DO WE CREATE A HABIT?
Habits develop as we respond repeatedly in a same context and thus form direct associations in memory between that response and cues in the performance context. For example, remembering to take cloth bag to the store and saying goodbye to the plastic bags. Once habits form, perception of the context directly activates the associated response in memory (store – cloth bag). As we explain, this direct cuing process differentiates habits from brand loyalty and other factors that might also promote automatic repetition.Simply said, if we consciously respond differently when choosing a product and repeat this action several times, we create a new habit.
THE TRICKY PART
Change does not happen immediately. Our old unwanted habits are difficult to get rid of. The influence of habits on behavior is bigger by everyday demands like time pressures or all kinds of distractions that limit the capacity to inhibit acting on the activated habitual response and to choose and implement an alternative response. Important thing to remember is to pick only one behavior at a time and focus on it intentionally until it becomes a habit. Baby steps will lead to big lifestyle changes before we know it.
Journal reference: DOI: 10.1016/j.jcps.2009.08.003