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127. Good Habits, Bad Habits: An Interview with Wendy Wood

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Today I am so excited to introduce you to Dr. Wendy Wood. Her fantastic new book Good Habits Bad Habits (which I mentioned last week was voted book of the year in the Habit Weekly Awards) is just one of the many amazing things she has contributed to the field of habits. Much of what we know about habits is thanks to Wendy’s research. The things we now know about how habits work and what they’re doing in the brain is in large part because of her.
Wendy is a social psychologist whose research looks into the ways habits guide behavior and why they are so difficult to break. She is provost professor of psychology and business at the University of Southern California and has been Associate Editor of Psychological Review, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Personality and Social Psychology Review, and Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. She is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association, the American Psychological Society, the Society for Experimental Social Psychology, and a founding member of the Society for Research Synthesis.
Her research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, National Institute of Mental Health, and Rockefeller Foundation. Prior to joining USC, Professor Wood was James B. Duke Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience and Professor of Marketing at Duke University, and she is just a lovely person whom I really enjoyed talking to.

Show Notes:

  • [00:42] Today I am so excited to introduce you to Dr. Wendy Wood. Her fantastic new book Good Habits Bad Habits is just one of the many amazing things she has contributed to the field of habits. 
  • [02:47] Wendy is a social psychologist whose research looks into the ways habits guide behavior and why they are so difficult to break.
  • [04:52] Habits are part of our unconscious. They are a way our brain learns by connecting what we’ve done in a given context that got us a reward. 
  • [05:20] All mammals have a habit learning system. 
  • [07:05] With a habit you are repeating what you have done before while your mind is off solving other problems. 
  • [08:41] A habit frees our mind to do other things. When the habit is disrupted, we are stuck back having to make decisions. (Brain doesn’t like that!)
  • [09:45] COVID has disrupted all of our habits and we had to start making decisions about things we don’t usually have to think about. 
  • [10:36] Wendy recommends not expecting as much from yourself during the uncertainty of the pandemic. 
  • [11:05] Once we are removed from our habits, sometimes we end up finding things that work better. (Be open to that possibility!)
  • [14:25] Research found that for habitual runners the place where they typically ran activated thoughts of running. Those thoughts perpetuate their behavior. 
  • [16:08] The context in which you typically perform the behavior can trigger thoughts of that behavior. (Reinforcing it.)
  • [17:30] Context activates habits and we usually act on those habits in mind. Goals are what drive the more occasional behaviors that we have to make a decision to do. 
  • [19:01] If you do an activity in the same way every time, you are more likely to form a habit. You also want to be able to repeat it regularly. Also, look for what makes it rewarding to you, as we are more likely to repeat behaviors that we find rewarding.
  • [20:42] Research has shown that it is important to find ways to perform the habit easily. You will do something more if it is easier. We can often set up our environment in a way that would make it more likely that we will perform the habit. 
  • [23:15] There is a lot of science behind the importance of making good habits easy for us. 
  • [24:15] Along with making the desired behavior easier, you want to make the things that are more problematic (those you want to avoid or stop doing), more difficult. 
  • [26:04] Wendy recommends reverse engineering what your environment is pushing you to do. 
  • [27:38] If you can incorporate the desired behavior into your daily routine it is so much easier to get yourself to do them. Anything that adds to the hassle makes it more likely you will not do it. 
  • [30:01] Wendy shares her favorite study (which also happens to be the one she is currently working on). 
  • [32:01] They found that social media revenue is closely tied to habitual use.
  • [33:26] Thoughts and tips for marketers on using habits for good. 
  • [35:52] Product manufactures have to take habits seriously. 
  • [36:47] The trick is keeping up with current development while also taking advantage of the cues that already keep your habitual customers coming back. 
  • [39:01] Weight loss programs, in general, don’t benefit from you losing weight and keeping it off. Their model revolves around repeat customers. 
  • [41:09] If you want to change your behavior, the way you typically go about it is not the most effective. We focus on our conscious decision-making self while our habits run in the background.  
  • [43:31] If you can make it easier in your life to do the right thing and harder to do the thing that is being a problem. You will make it easier to change your behavior. 
  • [46:23] Don’t forget to take advantage of the year-end sale going on now.

Thanks for listening. Don’t forget to subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Android. If you like what you heard, please leave a review on iTunes and share what you liked about the show. 

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