Understanding Habit & Behaviour Formation

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Most of the demanding societal issues like health, illness, and associated costs; climate change etc. are rooted in behaviour. The small changes to everyday behaviours can even bring substantial benefits. People will successfully adopt new behaviours but they will fail to maintain them over time. This problem has stimulated interest in the habit. In psychology, habitual behaviours are defined as actions triggered automatically when people encounter situations in which they have consistently done them in the past. The behaviour that is repeating in the same circumstances strengthens mental associations between the context and behaviour. Habit is will formed when exposure to the context unconsciously activates the coalition, which in turn elicits an urge to act, influencing behaviour with minimal conscious will anticipate.

As an initially goal-directed behaviour becomes habitual, control over behaviour is transferred from a reasoned, reflective processing system, which elicits behaviour relatively slowly based on conscious motivation, to an impulsive system, which elicits behaviour rapidly and efficiently, based on learned context-behaviour associations. Behaviours that are habitual thus become unzipped from conscious motivational processes. Theories propose that habit has two effects on behaviour in the associated context: habit will prompt frequent performance, and will override motivational tendencies in doing so unless self-control is particularly strong at that moment. People may therefore continue to perform a habitual action even when they lack motivation. The said characteristics have created interest in the potential for the habit to hold up long-term adoption of new behaviours.

Normally people fail to maintain behaviour changes as they lose motivation, but if there is a formation of habits for new behaviours, they should, in theory, continue to perform them despite losing motivation. This has prompted calls for interventions to move beyond merely promoting new behaviours, toward advocating context-dependent habitual performances. Some have also argued that habit formation may be fruitful for stopping unwanted behaviours because new, “good” habits can be directly substituted for existing “bad” habits. The fact is that habit formation is not a stand-alone behaviour change technique, it requires that people should first follow a new behaviour, which while repeating will become habitual. The Real-world behaviour change involvements based on these principles are acceptable and enchanting, and show promise for changing the behaviour, though few have used for long-term follow-up periods.

This entry highlights leading work in the application of habit formation to behaviour change interventions, drawing on the most methodologically and conceptually rigorous empirical research available. Almost all of the development and application of habit theory to the real-world social contexts has been undertaken in the health and pro-environmental domains. Thus there is focuses to a great degree on these domains, but the principles defined are thought to be applicable beyond behaviours and settings.

Forming a habit is the process by which behaviour becomes automatic or habitual, through regular repetition; this is modelled as an increase in automaticity with the number of repetitions up to an asymptote. This process of habit formation can be slow.

A helpful framework is there that can make it easier to stick to new habits so that you can improve your health, your work, and your life in general. All habits are having four stages in the order: cue, craving, response, and reward. This four-step pattern is the foundation of every habit, and the brain runs through these steps in the same order each time. First, there is the cue. The cue triggers the brain to initiate behaviour.

“Positive reinforcement is the most effective method of shaping behaviour,” The change in the behaviour is complicated and complex because it requires a person to disrupt a current habit while at the same time fostering an unfamiliar, set of actions. This process takes time—usually longer than we think.

Behaviour also plays a very important role in people’s health, for example, smoking, poor diet, lack of exercise and sexual risk-taking can cause a large number of diseases.

Knowledge is possibly the first step to wilfully changing behaviour, especially in health. … But knowledge alone isn’t connected directly with behaviour. Even though people know that behaviour is harmful, they still do not make any efforts to make any changes. All people’s life today is essentially the sum of their habits.