It may be possible to deliberately ‘forget’ long-standing habits, according to new experiments carried out at Regensburg University in Germany.
According to this new research, merely telling yourself to forget about the habit after performing it may prove helpful.
This adds to the techniques for changing habits which have support from psychological research.
Two types of these are:
- Quick reactions: noticing that you are performing a bad habit and changing the response.
- Implementation intentions: making a specific plan in advance about how you are going to behave in a particular situation. For example, if I get hungry between meals, then eat an apple not a cake.
But what about after you’ve performed the habit you want to change? Is there anything you can do then?
In the experiment, participants were taught a habit which involved connections between words and particular responses (Dreisbach & Bäuml, 2014).
Sometimes, though, halfway through learning the habit, participants were casually told to forget what they’d learnt so far.
The results showed that deliberately forgetting about a newly formed habit affected how that habit was performed.
When people were told to forget that habit, they duly did as they were told.
Naturally, this study only tests the procedure in controlled laboratory conditions, rather than in everyday life.
Also, the habits were newly formed, rather than long-standing.
Nevertheless, the technique could prove a useful addition to the other methods of habit change that are well-established.
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
Image credit: frank fani