Habits: Myths and Truths – With Dr. Greg Moody, Chief Master Instructor
We all want to develop good habits BUT just about everybody is doing this the WRONG way…
Below are some myths and truths I compiled (and my additions) from a couple wonderful articles . First from Kate Rockwood of Prevention Magazine and second from Wendy Wood Ph.D. Provost Professor of Psychology and Business at University of Southern California (and author of Good Habits, Bad Habits) who wrote about this in the Washington Post.
Parents! Warning – this will help you with MASSIVE change with your kids and it covers some VERY serious topics! It’s for you and not your kids!
Myth 1: Breaking or forming a habit is all about Willpower
It’s much more about your environment, says Wendy Wood, Ph.D., a professor of psychology and business at the University of Southern California and the author of Good Habits, Bad Habits. Habits are formed not by active will, but by repeating rewarded behaviors in a stable environment, says Wood. If you remain in the same environment, simply trying hard not to do something (or to do something new) will be difficult to sustain. Instead of focusing on commitment or willpower, says Wood, “focus on the environment and how to structure it.” This may be as minor as, say, putting healthy food within easy reach or keeping your cell phone plugged in instead of in your pocket when you’re at home so it’s harder to check it constantly.
When people fail to change their habits, they often blame their weak wills. One-third of Americans say they lack the self-control they need to accomplish their goals. About one-fourth attribute trouble sticking to a diet, for example, to personal character defects such as laziness.
Many of our behaviors are not guided by self-control. 50% of the things we perform daily are what we do without thinking. And people with high levels of self-control aren’t constantly battling temptation — they’re simply relying on good habits to exercise, make the kids’ lunch or pay the bills on time without thinking about it much.
In that way, high self-control is an illusion, actually consisting of a bedrock of habitual patterns. That makes sense: It would be exhausting to repeatedly struggle to control our actions to do the right thing.
Myth 2: Apps on your phone can change behavior
Apple like BookLover, MyFitnessPal or your Apple Watch (which I love) make a promise to change our behavior by letting us know what we’re doing and tracking out results.
The problem is that they just do that – simply monitor what you’re doing. Research showed that “The gap between recording information and changing behavior is substantial.” There was “little evidence . . . that [apps] are bridging that gap.” (Patel, M., Asch, D, Volpp, K., 2015). Dr. Wood (above) notes that ”
In my research, I’ve found that certain types of planning and monitoring actually get in the way of creating new habits, perhaps because they focus our attention on things that are irrelevant to behavior change. Some people might like these devices. But until there’s broader evidence of effectiveness, I recommend that most people don’t bother with them.”
Myth 3: Going “cold turkey” is the best way to quit a bad habit
By the six-month mark, about 95% of people who try to quit smoking cold turkey are back at it. Your best bet for nipping a nicotine habit is a combination of nicotine replacement therapies (NRTs) or medication (varenicline or bupropion) and counseling, says Judson Brewer, M.D., Ph.D., an associate professor at Brown University and the executive medical director at Sharecare. Using an NRT such as the nicotine patch or nicotine gum, for example, increases chances of quitting by 50% to 60%, research shows. Want to boost those odds even more? Get some support, such as from therapy or a smoking-cessation program. A review of 83 studies found that adding behavioral support, whether in person or by phone, to medication increased people’s chances of putting the habit in the rearview by 10% to 20%.
This would apply to bad habits like eating something you know you shouldn’t (see Myth #1 – also change environment) or as a parent trying to get your child to go to bed at a reasonable time.
Myth 4: 21 days is the “magic” number to form a new habit
This idea stems from a popular 1960s book by Maxwell Maltz, and it’s often repeated today in everything from self-help books to help you with your marriage, get you 6 pack abs or get your financial problems solved… in just three weeks.
There is no magic number when it comes to building good habits. They are based on how often people repeat behaviors in a stable context. Some simple health behaviors, such as drinking a glass of water before each meal, had to be repeated for only 18 days before people did them without thinking, according to one recent study. Others, such as exercise, needed closer to a year of repetition. Researchers found that it took an average of 66 days for a new habit to form.
For the majority of people, more important than repeating an action for a certain number of days is establishing a regular routine. Doing something at the same location or time of day (like putting on sunscreen before you leave the house every morning) can help. In a study of regular exercisers, for example, almost 90 percent had a location or time that cued their desire to exercise. For them, exercising was more automatic and required less thought and willpower.
This goes along with the idea that “You have to do something every day to make it a habit”
Taking a day off isn’t a conflict with developing a good habit, found a study in the European Journal of Social Psychology. This study showed that it could take anywhere from 18 to 254 days to form a habit and a day off didn’t hurt the chances of making that behavior a habit. However, the more often you do something, “the faster your brain will become accustomed to the behavior and make it automatic,” Dr. Brewer says. “Once the habit is established, it will become your default even if you’re not always in the same place or situation.” It is possible to form habits with things you repeat less often than daily, such as going to the gym weekly, he adds, but these may take longer to stick.
Myth 5: If you have had a habit for a long time it’s permanent
Old habits are harder to break because they’re more ingrained in your routine, but breaking them is very much possible. “The good news is that our brains are always plastic. The more we pay attention to the habit cycle, the faster we break habits, no matter how long we’ve had them,” Dr. Brewer says. Plastic means they can be manipulated (rather than elastic and they “bounce back”).
To break a habit, you need to disrupt the habit cycle—removing cues, changing your routine, and replacing the reward. Let’s say you stop for a chocolate shake on your drive home from work every day—your cue is getting into your car, your behavior is buying the shake, and the reward is the tasty treat. To break the cycle, you might leave work earlier or later and change the way you drive home. Instead of the shake, you might reward yourself with something you prepared before you left (maybe a more healthy energy bar that you like just as well – that’s important). “If you can find something more rewarding than your old bad habit, you can ‘overwrite’ that habit by remembering and experiencing the positive result of a good habit,” Dr. Brewer says.
For parents remember when you’re helping your child break a bad habit, your child may not have the verbal skills to voice frustration that the change from the bad habit to the good habit is uncomfortable and frustrating. Further they may not value the change – what 6 year old would rather trade a chocolate milkshake for a healthy snack? They will need consistency from you as a parent and while you’re not going to comply with their desire to return to their bad habit, it’s ok to hear their frustration.
Myth 6: If you set realistic goals you’ll form a good habit
Straight from Dr. Wood…
In my lab, we recently conducted a study with people who wanted to change some behavior. When asked whether they would prefer a self-help book about goal-setting or one about environmental change, they overwhelmingly chose the book on goal-setting.
This is a mistake. Modifying our environment lets us remake our behavior without over-relying on willpower. Unwanted habits can be disrupted by changing the cues that activate them. People eat less unhealthy food if they put lids on candy dishes at the office and if stores place unhealthy snacks at the back of displays. Altering your surroundings can also set up cues to promote desired behaviors. People who weigh less keep fruit on their kitchen counters. And children without televisions in their bedrooms have lower BMIs than children with. Of course, these sorts of associations don’t prove that putting fruit on your countertop or removing TVs will make you thinner. But they illustrate how our environments cue healthy behaviors — or the reverse.
A study of returning Vietnam War veterans (Click HERE to see this) shows just how important environment can be. Twenty percent were actively addicted to heroin while they were serving overseas. But just 5 percent relapsed after they returned home. Researchers concluded that these shockingly low rates were due to the dramatic change in environment vets experienced. Back in the States, the triggering cues all but disappeared.
If you want to change your habits – change your environment!
Myth 7: Once you UNDERSTAND how good something is for you, it will be easy to make it a habit
If that were true, we’d all eat our veggies, get seven hours of sleep, and exercise all the time. Good intentions are good, but research has repeatedly found that educating people about the benefits of a certain behavior doesn’t lead to major changes. “That’s the tricky thing about habits. What you’re trying to do doesn’t matter—what you actually do does,” Dr. Wood says. So what’s the best way to form healthy habits? Make it as easy as possible to repeat the desired behavior. One study showed that people who lived closer to their gyms (3.7 miles away or less) worked out five or more times a month compared with just once a month for those whose gym was 5.1 miles away.
Habits are formed through doing. And the long-term memory systems involved in habit formation don’t shift with new resolutions. In Dr. Wood’s research, they found that old habit associations endure, and hinder behavioral changes, even after people adopt new intentions. For example, once you see a prompt to surf the Web, it’s hard to get that out of your head and instead focus on your resolution to stay organized by paying the bills. With habits, we learn not by learning, but by doing.
Some of the most important lessons here –
- Don’t listen to myths – they are everywhere and they are counterproductive.
- If you want to change your habits – change your environment!
- Increase repetition of good habits as much as you can!
- What you’re trying to do doesn’t matter—what you actually do does!
Let’s build some good habits!
Ch. Master Greg Moody, Ph.D.
KarateBuilt.com and KarateBuilt Martial Arts have been selected the nation’s #1 martial arts schools for EIGHT YEARS IN A ROW!
KarateBuilt L.L.C. was founded in 1995 by Dr. Greg Moody, an 8th degree Black Belt and Chief Master Instructor, KarateBuilt Martial Arts and Karate for Kids offers lessons for pre-school children ages 3-6 and elementary age kids ages 7 and up are designed to develop the critical building blocks kids need – specialized for their age group – for school excellence and later success in life.
KarateBuilt Martial Arts Adult Karate training is a complete adult fitness and conditioning program for adults who want to lose weight, get (and stay in shape), or learn self-defense in a supportive environment.
Instructors can answer questions or be contacted 24 hours of the day, 7 days a week at 866-311-1032 for one of our nationwide locations. You can also visit our website at KarateBuilt.com.
About Dr. Greg Moody: Dr. Moody is an eighth-degree black belt and chief master instructor. He has a Ph.D. in Special Education from Arizona State University (along with a Master’s Degree in Counseling and a Bachelor’s Degree in Engineering – he actually is a rocket scientist). He has been teaching martial arts for over 30 years and has owned eight martial arts schools in Arizona and California. Chief Master Moody is a motivational speaker and educator and teaches seminars in bullying, business, and martial arts training, around the world. See more at DrGregMoody.com.
Dr. Moody is also a licensed psychotherapist and maintains a practice at Integrated Mental Health Associates (IntegratedMHA.com) where he specializes in couples therapy and mens issues.
The KarateBuilt Martial Arts Headquarters at KarateBuilt LLC is in Cave Creek, Arizona at 29850 N. Tatum Blvd., Suite 105, Cave Creek AZ 85331. You can locate the Chief Instructor, Master Laura Sanborn there directly at (480) 575-8171. KarateBuilt Martial Arts serves Cave Creek, Carefree, Scottsdale, and Paradise Valley Arizona as well and Grand Rapids, MI.
Also, check us out on Go2Karate.com, School Listings, and on Local Trust Navigator!
P.S. From a parent:
“My son Herman was shy and introverted and not he’s one of the leaders at his school!!!!” – Sondra Johnson