August 13, 2020
As we discussed in the Habit Loop series of blogs, we talked about how the Loop is made up of three distinct elements. These are the ingredients you need to make habits stick:
All of your habits, even the bad ones, can be traced back to this pattern.
What could be easier than doing the same thing over and over and over again?
Repetition [ rep-i-tish-uhn ]
Noun – The act of repeating, or doing, saying, or writing something again; repeated action, performance, production, or presentation.
The real key to habit forming is repetition.
In psychology, habits are defined as “actions that are triggered automatically in response to contextual cues that have been associated with their performance.” For example, automatically putting on a seatbelt (action) after getting into the car (contextual cue). Decades of psychological research shows that through associative learning, consistent repetition of an action leads to that action being adopted as habit.
According to Making health habitual: the psychology of ‘habit-formation’ and general practice. from The British Journal of General Practice, once the action becomes automatic, “dependence on conscious attention or motivational processes is reduced. Therefore habits are likely to persist even after conscious motivation or interest dissipates.” Basically, once we’ve mastered something, it moves to our mind’s backburner along with all our other habits.
Habits pave the way for huge gains in productivity. Our ability to perform more than one task at one time, such as listening and taking notes, are deeply ingrained habits that most of us do with little or no effort. The British Journal of General Practice adds; “Habits are also cognitively efficient, because the automation of common actions frees mental resources for other tasks.”
As we explained in The habit loop explained – #3 How rewards make habits stick, it’s generally pretty easy to understand how routines work. Once triggered, perform an action that gets you some kind of a reward. After a while, the action doesn’t need much of a trigger or reward because you just do it. It’s a habit.
We’re here to help if you want to add the habit of exercise to your daily routine!
Automaticity is the ability to perform an action automatically, without having to think about it. It frees up our working memory, or conscious attention, to think about more complex matters. For example, a boxer has an ingrained set of automatic response patterns based on what their opponent is doing. It’s usually the result of learning, repetition, and practice, so, if you stepped into the ring without building those same habits, it’s likely you’d be waking up with the referee counting you out.
Remember, automaticity can be a double-edged sword. It can develop wonderful habits like exercise routines, but it can also make it hard to break bad habits as well. Being aware of our behaviors can help us avoid forming counterproductive habits such as over-eating and self-medicating.
Delayed gratification is the act of resisting an impulse for immediate reward in the hopes of obtaining a greater reward in the future.
According to research from the University of Rochester, the ability for people to delay gratification and display willpower was “not a predetermined trait, but rather was impacted by the experiences and environment that surrounded them.”
In their research, they studied two groups of children. The first group was exposed to a series of unreliable experiences. For example, the researchers promised a bigger box of crayons, but never delivered.
The second group had reliable experiences. They were promised better crayons and got them.
When given a marshmallow with the promise of more to come if they didn’t eat it, the children in the unreliable group didn’t wait very long to gobble it up because they had no reason to trust that the researchers would bring another marshmallow.
Meanwhile, the kids in the reliable group were building willpower. When the researchers made a promise and then delivered, the child’s brain registered two things:
1) Waiting for gratification is worth it.
2) I have the capability to wait.
As a result, the second group waited an average of four times longer than the first group.
The ability to delay gratification is essential for self-regulation, and teaches us better impulse control and decision-making – vital in our daily lives.
The effects of the above study were almost instantaneous. Just a short exposure to reliable or unreliable experiences were enough to push the actions of each child in one direction or another. If you apply the same principle to exercise, eventually, with enough repetition and decent rewards, it will become automatic and you won’t have to force yourself to do it.
You got this!