The arrival of COVID-19 is causing us all to experience some disruption to daily life, and forcing us to adapt to new routines. Many people are taking this opportunity to focus on self-improvement and setting new goals—two of the most common being eating healthier and increasing physical activity.
People are finding that they finally have the time to experiment with healthier recipes or start that new workout video they had been wanting to try. However, when this pandemic is over and we return to our old routines, how do we turn these new activities into ones that will last long term?
Dr. Wendy Wood is an expert in the field of psychology for over 30 years. In the podcast, “Creatures of Habits – How Habits Shape Who We Are – And Who We Become”, Dr. Wood sheds light on the topic. She provides both personal experiences and her years of research exploring what makes humans develop habits, both good and bad.
Wood uses the metaphor of driving a car to explain how once developed, habits become automated behaviors that we don’t need to put much thought or effort into performing. Once the car is moving most experienced drivers cruise along pushing the petal.
She explains that one key to sustaining a behavior long term is finding a way to make the habit “frictionless”. Amazon is a perfect example of a company that makes buying merchandise essentially “frictionless”. With a click of a button, customers order merchandise and it is at their door oftentimes before they get home from work. It’s easy, rewarding, frictionless.
Making good habits frictionless can be the key to making them stick. For example, Wood recalls being crunched for time when her boys were young. To reduce the “friction” of getting up early and getting ready to exercise, she simply slept in her workout clothes. This made the morning routine easier, causing less friction.
There are also ways to make bad habits harder to maintain. For example, rather than putting a leftover birthday cake in a container on the kitchen counter, freezing single serve slices and keeping just one in the refrigerator causes more “friction” because it makes it harder to eat, and it is not in sight.
Habits that stick tend to provide an immediate reward. For this reason, goals that take longer to see results can deter people. Weight loss is a perfect example. The scale may not move as quickly as a person wants, so eating healthy and exercising may not seem rewarding enough for a person to want to repeat. Wood has advice for this as well. For example, she allows herself a “reward” during her exercise sessions. She watches her favorite cooking show at the same time she is on the elliptical. She doesn’t allow herself to watch the show at any other time.
The Hidden Brain is a weekly podcast. The attached episode, “Creatures of Habits – How Habits Shape Who We Are – And Who We Become”, is timely as well as practical for our clients. Resolutions are great, but habits are behavioral changes that last.
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