The Simple Key To Forming New Habits

How much are habits a product of what we want versus what we habitually do?

How much are habits a product of what we want versus what we habitually do?

Simple repetition is the key to hacking your brain to form solid habits, research concludes.

Just find a way to keep repeating the same action until it sticks.

It doesn’t matter whether the action provides you satisfaction or not — repetition is all.

At least, that is the message from a mathematical model of habit formation developed by psychologists at Warwick, Princeton and Brown Universities.

Dr Elliot Ludvig, study co-author, said:

“Much of what we do is driven by habits, yet how habits are learned and formed is still somewhat mysterious.

Our work sheds new light on this question by building a mathematical model of how simple repetition can lead to the types of habits we see in people and other creatures. “

The researchers created a computational model that involved digital mice pressing levers to get a reward.

The simulation showed that after training, mice will continue to press a lever even after it stops rewarding them.

In other words, the digital mice kept doing something they had done before, despite receiving no reward.

The habit continues, despite having lost all value.

While mice are clearly different to human beings, repetition has surprising power over us all.

The next step for the researchers is to test their model on humans.

Dr Amitai Shenhav, study co-author, said:

“Psychologists have been trying to understand what drives our habits for over a century, and one of the recurring questions is how much habits are a product of what we want versus what we do.

Our model helps to answer that by suggesting that habits themselves are a product of our previous actions, but in certain situations those habits can be supplanted by our desire to get the best outcome.”

The study was published in the journal Psychological Review (Miller et al., 2018).

Author: Jeremy Dean

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, 2013) and several ebooks.

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