Why Is It So Hard To Break Our Bad Habits Or Form Good Ones? | KERA News

Why Is It So Hard To Break Our Bad Habits Or Form Good Ones?

Nov 7, 2019

From hitting the gym to reading more books, many people resolve to make positive life changes only to have those lofty resolutions fall by the wayside a few months later. Why is it so difficult to rid ourselves of bad habits or to make ambitious new routines stick? 

Wendy Wood, provost professor of psychology and business at the University of Southern California, talked with Think host Krys Boyd about her research into the science of making better choices from her book, “Good Habits, Bad Habits: The Science of Making Positive Changes.”

Wood said habits are a unique learning mechanism in the brain, one that we don't have conscious access to.

"It's not something we can intuit easily," Wood said. "It's sort hidden. It's sort of a mental shortcut to what to do in a given situation that will work for you in the sense of getting a reward."

Wood's research found habits pervade much of our daily functions. In fact, she said people spend 43% of their time acting on habit, repeating previous actions in similar contexts without thinking about it.

When it comes to breaking out of our old patterns, Wood recommends making the changes in your routine as easy as possible to set yourself up for success. For example, she said you're more likely to stick to a new workout routine if you sign up for a gym that is close to home or work as opposed to one that's out of the way.

"If you make things easier, people are much more likely to do them," Wood said. 

Listen to Wendy Wood's complete interview on Think.