How Habits Work

Healthy lifestyle is a matter of establishing healthy habits and breaking unhealthy habits.  We can’t make a decision each and every day to have the oatmeal for breakfast instead of donuts.  The idea is to get in the habit of reaching for the oatmeal without having to think it through.

Especially at this time of year, many people are thinking about making resolutions and carrying through on them, hoping that this time, the old habits can be broken and the new, better habits can take over.  But how, really, do habits get set, and how can they be changed?

Wendy Wood, a psychology professor at the University of Southern California, has been studying habits and habit forming, and she shares some insights in this podcast from NPR.  She claims that about 43% of the actions we do every day are habitual – actions completed without conscious choice.  Driving is an example of something that is mostly habitual, and clearly, drivers develop good or bad habits that follow them wherever they go: like using a turn signal every time you change lanes (or not). Moodsurfing has looked at healthy habits in a number of contexts, including New Year’s resolutions.  Our observation is that it’s not a matter of “will power” but rather requires planning and practice.  We also urge everyone to place the habit change in the context of life goals, which helps you keep going while the habit is still being formed.