ProdPod: Episode 14 — How to Form a Productive Habit, Part 3

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Realities of Forming Habits: New Scientific Data

This is part three of our 4-part podcast on How to Form a Productive Habit. In this episode, we’ll be discussing the realities of forming habits using the most current scientific data on automaticity.

This is part three of our 4-part podcast on How to Form a Productive Habit. In this episode, we’ll be discussing the realities of forming habits using the most current scientific data on automaticity.
About a year ago, the research associate in Health Psychology, Dr. Phillippa Lally, at University College London DEPARTMENT OF EPIDEMIOLOGY AND PUBLIC HEALTH in the
HEALTH BEHAVIOUR RESEARCH CENTRE performed a study on habit formation systematically as they reach automaticity.
The findings are quite interesting, albeit there are some constructive criticisms of the work. Here are the four main outcomes of the study and how it may help us with forming productive habits.
1. Automaticity took on average 66 days to be reached. Yes, 66 days. Banish the old concept of doing something repetitively for 21-30 days as once was thought.
2. Each person varies for similar habits. In the study, we found that the times ranged from 18 to 254 days to reach maximum automaticity. There are many variables why this may be the case: trying to learn too many new habits at once, not enough focus, time and/or attention, or other not-so-easily distinguishable idiosyncrasies. Ergo, don’t think about reaching automaticity so much as the work of forming the habit. It’ll reduce burnout.
3. Complex behaviors take more time. This may seem obvious but our previous understanding contradicts this. Don’t beat yourself up so much about not building a productive habit of exercising regularly; it turns out that it may take significantly longer to reach that automatic state.
4. Counter to the great psychologist William James’s theory, you can actually omit a behavior (say, miss a day at the gym) and it will have negligible effect on automaticity and long-term impact. However, there was some evidence that the effects of omitting the behavior was cumulative and so it’s not a ticket to slack off, otherwise you won’t be able to build that productive habit.
So, there you go. The real deal, theoretically, about forming habits from the latest in psychological understanding. Please join us for episode 15, our final part of How to Form a Productive Habit, where I’ll be covering practical aspects of learning productive habits.