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The Happiness Lab with Dr. Laurie Santos

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Season 2

How to Kick Bad Habits (and Start Good Ones)
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We all have bad habits — things we eat, drink, do or say that cause us unhappiness. We repeat these behaviors over and over again — almost as if we are on autopilot. But we can break free from them, and use the mechanics of habit formation to make doing good things feel effortless.

Dr. Laurie Santos meets a scientist who sleeps in her running gear and a former army doctor who went to Vietnam to fight a wave of heroin abuse in the military and discovered something startling about habits.

To learn more. . .

Wendy Wood’s website

Wendy Wood’s book

Links to references from this episode:

“There was even a televised lottery draw— where young men were selected for military service and a stint in Vietnam—  based on their birth date.”

CBS News Lottery Draft 1969

“As one GI addict told the New York times— “The scag was everywhere.”

G.I. Heroin Epidemic in Vietman. The New York Times, 5/16/1971

“But there are ironic consequences to willpower, when you exert willpower and control your behavior, what you're doing is you are thinking about the thing that you don't want to do.”

Wegner, D. M. (1994). Ironic processes of mental control. Psychological review, 101(1), 34.

 “Wendy’s morning coffee-making illustrates a willpower-free strategy that we can use to change our behavior for the better: habit formation.”

Wood, W. (2019). Good Habits, Bad Habits: The Science of Making Positive Changes That Stick. Macmillan.

“But Wendy’s work has shown that good habits and bad habits work exactly the same way. They have a very particular structure, one that involves three critical parts.”

Wood, W. (2019). Good Habits, Bad Habits: The Science of Making Positive Changes That Stick. Macmillan.

“The science shows that having a specific routine is critical to habit formation. In part because our minds care about routines a lot.”

Wood, W. (2019). Good Habits, Bad Habits: The Science of Making Positive Changes That Stick. Macmillan.

“The answer comes from the third critical part of our habit loops: the context.”

Wood, W. (2019). Good Habits, Bad Habits: The Science of Making Positive Changes That Stick. Macmillan.

“He tested this out in a clever study involving movie trailer screenings.”

Neal, D. T., Wood, W., Wu, M., & Kurlander, D. (2011). The pull of the past: When do habits persist despite conflict with motives?. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 37(11), 1428-1437.

“Back in 1971, a documentary called G.I. Junkie, followed a group of returning soldiers going through rehab.”

G.I. Junkie (1971) IMDB.

“A team of researchers followed addicted Vietman veterans after they came home.”

Robins, L. N., Davis, D. H., & Nurco, D. N. (1974). How permanent was Vietnam drug addiction?. American Journal of Public Health, 64(12_Suppl), 38-43.

“Early on, we did some research where we beeped people once an hour to figure out what they were thinking, feeling, doing. What we found is that about 43% of the time, people are doing what they did yesterday and the day before in the same context, and they're doing it without thinking much about it.”

Wood, W. (2019). Good Habits, Bad Habits: The Science of Making Positive Changes That Stick. Macmillan.

 “In one study, people had a bowl of apple slices and a bowl of hot buttered popcorn.”

Neal, D. T., Wood, W., & Drolet, A. (2013). How do people adhere to goals when willpower is low? The profits (and pitfalls) of strong habits. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 104(6), 959.

“One of the best examples of this in modern times is the anti-smoking campaigns.”

Wood, W. (2019). Good Habits, Bad Habits: The Science of Making Positive Changes That Stick. Macmillan.