We all know it can be tough to change a deeply ingrained habit, but behaviour blog Psychology Today highlights a study explaining why exactly it's so damn hard.
A study conducted by researches from the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at University College London put participants in a situation in which they had to play referee making a sports call—judging if a tennis ball is in or out. The participants made the call by lifting their finger from a pressed key on a keyboard. If they didn't lift their finger, that meant they'd stick with the default choice, and the default varied between "in" and "out" per participant. The results:
As my shopping habits (and the researchers) predicted, participants were more likely to stick with the default when the decision was difficult. It didn't matter whether the default was in or out. If they couldn't make a confident choice, they essentially chose to do nothing. And as the researchers point out, this tendency led to more errors.
So next time you're trying to make a change, figure out what your current default is, and remind yourself exactly why it isn't working. Then look for ways to change your default (clean out your fridge, set up direct deposit) so you don't have to fight the old default as often. And feel free to be your own cheerleader when the going gets rough. Look for the first evidence (a pound lost here, a dwindling credit card statement there) that what you're doing is paying off. The status quo is seductive, and we all need a little encouragement to lift our fingers off the keyboard.
The article points out that these findings also help explain why people are so eager to try things like diet fads—these formulas feel scientific, so they define a new default that we feel like we can trust. It's worth keeping in mind next time you're having trouble kicking an old habit. Photo by quinn.anya.
Why Habits Are Hard to Change (And Printers Hard to Buy) [Psychology Today]