Forget willpower - Use the power of habits w/Wendy Wood

Prosci bi-weekly podcast featuring the leading thinkers in change management

Hosted by Morten Kamp Anderse

Habits are crucial if you want to make a change and make it stick. A large part of our daily lives is habitual. But habits scare us because they remind us that parts of our lives are outside of our control. The good news is that habits can help us. Having a string of good habits can help us study well, live healthily, have good relations and be effective at work.

Habits are based on three components: context, repetition, and rewards. But what does that exactly mean? I have invited Wendy Wood to discuss how you can form new habits, break old ones, and meet your goals. Wendy is a professor of psychology and business at the University of Southern California and an expert in habits. She will tell us all about how to change bad habits into good habits – which incidentally is (almost) the name of her latest book.


  • Fully 43% of our actions are habitual - performed without conscious thought. Habits are a big part of our lives and are therefore important
  • That we are obsessed with willpower and self-control when we make a change, but this is the wrong strategy. Because it does not work
  • Why a night at the movies won’t cut it as a reward to yourself
  • Why it is often more difficult to change your habits the older you become
Make sure you enjoy the behaviour. If it’s not rewarding, you’re not going to repeat it into a habit
Wendy Wood, Expert in habits


Here are my key takeaways from the podcast. But there are more goodies in the episode itself, so hopefully, you will listen to it.

#1: Willpower and self-control is not enough

Willpower will help you in one-off situations and when you want to start a new habit. But you cannot suppress desire - not even with the strongest will. It is not willpower that will keep you from the candy jar. Habits will. People with great willpower just have great habits

#2:  Habits are born from the same three elements; context, repetition, and rewards

Context is our environment. If the candy jar is placed a little further away, that will cause friction and help you to break that habit. If you sign up to the gym closest to where you live, you are more likely to go. You get the picture.

Repetition is the mother of skill. You need to continue to do things over and over to make it habitual. And no, 21 times is not enough. That is a myth.

Rewards create a dopamine connection to the behaviour and make it a bit more likely that you will do it again. Intrinsic rewards work the best, and yes, they must come straight after the right behaviour.

#3: Your habits are your friends 

Whether you like it or not, much of your daily behaviour is automatic or habitual. Wendy estimates this to be 43%. So, instead of seeing the hidden part of our selves as something to fight against, see it as a friend who relieves mental energy for you, so you can pay more attention to the things which really matters.



Si vous voulez en savoir plus sur la motivation ou sur mon invitée, Wendy Wood, suivez les liens ci-dessous.



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EP3 - Wendy Wood



Morten Andersen, Wendy Wood


Morten Andersen  00:05

Hello, and welcome to What Monkeys Do. My name is Morten Kamp Andersen. And this is a podcast about what it takes to make a change and make it stick.


Morten Andersen  00:21

In What Monkeys Do, we explore what it takes to make a change, and today we're going to talk about habits. Many times during the day, I'm doing something while doing or thinking about something else. For example, I might be preparing my breakfast, but really, I'm thinking about what to buy for my wife for her upcoming birthday. And even though we've hardly looked at my eggs and bacon, 10 minutes later, they are all prepared for us to eat. It almost happened automatically. Other times, I must focus intensely on one thing to get it right. For example, if I'm driving and I'm looking for a particular road, I might be lost, I must turn down the music in my car, I must stop talking to my kids so I can focus on finding my way back, I must cut off all other distractions, including my own thoughts to focus. There's nothing automatic about that. So some of what I do is automatic, and I don't really pay attention to it. We call this habitual behavior, or just a habit. But habits are not really well understood. You know, how do we get them? How do we get rid of unwanted habits, and there's a lot of misconceptions around habits. But one thing is clear. If I want to make a change, I will need to challenge my habits one way or the other. Sometimes it's a habit that I want to change for instance, quit smoking, and other times it's a habit would stand in my way of making a change. Again, one way or the other, you will need to challenge your habits to make a change. Our guest is one of the world's leading experts in habits She's born in UK. She is a professor of psychology and Business at the University of Southern California. She is also a visiting professor at Insead Business School in Paris. And then she is the author of the truly fantastic book, good habits, bad habits. Welcome to you Wendy Wood.


Wendy Wood  02:17

Yeah. Thank you for that introduction Morten.


Morten Andersen  02:21

So we're going to talk about habits. So let's kick off there. What is a habit? What's the definition of a habit? What's the characteristics of a habit?


Wendy Wood  02:30

Well, your introduction was a great illustration, I think of how we use habits in our lives, we tend to think of ourselves as sort of one unified whole. But that's not the way our brains developed over time. Our brains evolved and sort of fits and starts in bits and pieces. And we have some components of our brains that learn more Slowly. And once they've learned something, we can do them automatically without thinking. And that's our habit. And we don't have access to those parts of our brains. You could think of habits as, well I described them as mental shortcuts. They're shortcuts that identify for us, what's the best thing to do in a given situation in order to get the rewards that we got in the past. So for you, making bacon and eggs, apparently, is something that's quite rewarding and you've done it often enough so that it's a habit and you don't have to think about it. And your brain stored that as a habit, because you did it often enough. And it got the reward often enough, so that it's something important in your life. Habits Reflect repeated behavior and repeated rewards. And they capture really what's most important. They're the part of our brain that does. But that's not all our brains are composed of. Our brains also, are composed of more sort of active problem solving parts that connect with habits but aren't part of them. So you're able while you're making your breakfast, to think about other things, you can plan what you're going to do during the day. Or you can ruminate about something that happened yesterday. It's all very functional, because you get your bacon and eggs in the end. And you've also got now a plan for what to do during the day. So you can think of our habits as coding the repeated parts of our lives that are really important. That our brain wants to remember. So that we can do them again in just the same way. They're not for tomorrow or undercooked in just the same way to get the kind of reward that you're looking for. But then we're always dealing with new challenges as well. And that's the active decision making part of our brains that allow us to problem solve. And we've all had the experience of driving, as you say, and something unusual happens. And you realize, Oh, my gosh, I've been driving in a fog for the past 10 minutes. I really need to pay attention now and get myself out of this problem. So our brains very quickly switch between the two ways of handling our life experience, and it works together wonderfully most of the time.


Morten Andersen  05:58

Okay, so there was a A lot of things there, there was something we saw our brain, we have different parts of our brain, some of it is automatic, some of it is more active in decision making. You also mentioned rewards, you mentioned repetition, and so on. So there's a lot of things that I think we will talk more about. Before we get into that I'm just interested in how do one become interested in habits. How did you get into this?


Wendy Wood  06:25

Well, I didn't start out studying habits. I started out studying attitudes and how we change our opinions. Hmm. And how to get people to change judgments, ideas, and I started noticing that people can do that. We know how to get people to change attitudes and opinions. But we're not so good at getting people to change behavior. Most of us can change behavior in the short run, right? I mean, we even have an institution societal institution for this: new year's resolutions, where we know we're going to change our behavior in the short run, probably not maintain it. So that was really of great interest. What isn't that's making it difficult for us to stick with behavior change. And that's how I got into studying habits. I didn't start off with the idea, habits was going to be my life's work. Instead, I wanted to help people make change in their behavior and make it stick.


Morten Andersen  07:38

It's interesting with habits because I think it's almost 30 years ago since the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People came out that became a national bestseller. I know that's something about something completely different. But over the last 5-10 years, we've seen a search in studies about and books about habits we've seen the Power of Habit atomic habits, Making Habits Breaking Habits, sort of popular books, but also books about the automatic part of us Thinking Fast and Slow, obviously, but also Predictably Irrational. Why do you think that there is a greater interest in the field of habits now than there was been? Maybe 10 or 15 years ago?


Wendy Wood  08:19

Well, I think that we are becoming more sophisticated as an audience and a consumer of science. And we're starting to realize that we're not aware of all of the drivers of our behavior. We find ourselves doing things sometimes, and we're not exactly sure why. And sometimes it's not even in our best interest to do things that we're doing. And so that's led to questions about why, and I think it's general popular interest in science, but there's a nerdier answer too And the nerdier answer is that in the last century, BF Skinner was a big proponent of habits. But he understood habits in a very limited way. That actually doesn't make much sense, given what we know in current science. Hmm. And I think he and other behaviors at the time sort of derailed the field so that scientists became less interested in habit. So along with people becoming more sophisticated in their understanding of their own behavior, I think science has really embraced that study of habits in a new way, with out the blinders the limitations of the last century, the way that Skinner and others viewed habits. So the field has shifted to be to have a smarter view of habits. And people have continued to increase in their appreciation for science and for understanding their own behavior.


Morten Andersen  10:26

So the paradigm in psychology, so to speak, has moved away from behaviorism Skinner, Pavlov, and then it was to cognitive psychology with which really sort of thought, well, we are in complete control of our brains and, and it's just a matter of getting enough self control enough matter of willpower, and then we can barge through and then maybe it has come to the point where we've seen Well, that doesn't actually work either. So well. So is there a middle ground between self control and Something that is, you know, habits as well.


Wendy Wood  11:04

Exactly. In current thinking in psychology, there's multiple guides to behavior. People don't just respond reflexively to the environment around them, as many behaviorist assume, but they're also not lost in thought, completely driven by their goals, motivation, understanding, like many cognitive theorists assumed. So we're learning now that there's an integration in how people approach life and how we handle life.


Morten Andersen  11:42

And that was actually one of the Aha's that I got from your book was that you don't really dismiss willpower as such, you're just saying that it has a lot of limitations. And you're saying that self control which is a sort of a key element in psychology and one thing that we have studied for for many years to try to figure out how we can we gain self control? That self control is not actually what we thought it was that it was a matter of taking many rational decisions in our interest. But it is instead something else. Can you tell us a little bit about what is the limitations of willpower and self control? And when does it work? And when does it not work?


Wendy Wood  12:22

Well, we typically think of willpower as sort of the ability to deny ourselves something to exert control over our behavior, so that we do what's best for us. And that's great for short term behavior change. So you can set yourself on the right path, you can control your behavior in the short run, if you want to quit eating dessert. You can probably do that tonight, after dinner, and you can maybe do it tomorrow night and the next night, but after a week I bet you're going to start thinking about dessert again. And it's going to start seeming like that self denial is not so much fun. And you'll talk yourself back into eating dessert again, even if you didn't want to a week ago. So that's the challenge with willpower. It's very flexible, which is wonderful means we can implement it today, now, but it's also very flexible in that we can remove it and talk yourself out of it in the future when it becomes difficult. So that's one of the reasons why willpower doesn't work very well for long term change is it's just not reliable enough.


Morten Andersen  13:47

So it works for the short term, where you can make a conscious effort to do something. But as you write in your book, that desire you cannot suppress desire and after so long time, it is It becomes hard to continue to suppress your desire or your your your dessert, and therefore it will fail.


Wendy Wood  14:07

Yeah, one of the challenges is just by trying to suppress it, we tend to start thinking about it. Hmm. And dinner reminds us of the dessert we're not having. And then after dinner reminds us of the dessert we're not having, and then it becomes a bit of an obsession. So it's the ironic it's the ironic aspect of willpower that Dan Wagner identified early on and some of his research she's a psychologist. So willpower kind of backfires. Even if you can get it to work in the short run. What has been fascinating is he said, research on willpower has progressed. And what's been fascinating is studies of what people who have really good willpower what they're doing. So this view that willpower is unreliable, it backfires. Well, we know some people have really good willpower. I'm sure you know people who do, you probably are somebody who does. Given that you have this, this podcast and everything else that you do. Most of my students have good willpower for studying they got into college and graduate school. And so some people really do have very strong willpower, and they score high, We have scales that measure how much willpower people have, And some people just score really high on those scales. If you observe what they're doing, though, they're not denying themselves things. Instead, what they do is they form habits to meet their goals. So they automate The behaviors that are required to meet goals. So for example, my students who have really good willpower, they study in the library, or they have set up a place in their dorm where they only go to study. And when they're there, they put their phone away. They don't serve the nap. There's no distractions, and they just work and they don't think about doing anything else. Because it's their habit of what to do. in this situation. They have figured out how to use automaticity to meet their goals, which is fascinating if you're a theorist who believes in self control and willpower, the idea that in order to achieve goals, people with high willpower are relying on how That's, and that's how they do it reliably.


Morten Andersen  17:04

So I might have thought that willpower was marching through despite of wanting to do something else. But what you're really saying is that people with high willpower, they don't barch through more desire than anyone else. They just have really good habits, which means that they're not exposed to as many distractions or things that they might want to do instead. So they form habits around what it is they want to do.


Wendy Wood  17:31

Yeah, all really productive writers have habits. I was actually down in the Florida Keys A while ago, and got to see Ernest Hemingway's Writing Studio. And he would go out there every morning and write for several hours. That was his habit. Sometimes you have good writing days. Sometimes you have bad writing days. But he wasn't struggling about whether he should be writing or what else he should be doing. That was his time to write. And he just did it. And that's the beauty of a habit is it focuses your attention on what you're doing. And you spend less time worrying about what you're missing out on, or what else you could be doing. So if you're a person with a habit not to eat dessert, then you just get up from the table when you're finished your meal. And you don't consider what else is in the fridge that you could be eating. Instead, you're just start cleaning. It's as if you're not distracted with the temptation.


Morten Andersen  18:47

Okay, so let's get into details about how how habits good or bad. Begin. So you say the three components context, repetition and reward so let's let's look at them. context. In a previous episode, we talked with Christina gravich. She is a professor in nudging. And here we talked a lot about designing our environment to make it easier for us to make the right decisions. Is that what you mean by context? Can you give a couple of examples about context in relation to habit forming?


Wendy Wood  19:20

Yes, Christina's absolutely right, that the environments we live in, are really important determinants of our behavior. We're learning that and they're important. They guide what habits we form as well. So habits technically, are associations we learn between the contexts we're in and the responses we give my morning routine is to get up, stand in front of my coffeemaker and just make coffee in the same way that I have for the past. 10 years. And I don't think about it, because I'm responding to the coffeemaker and the steps that I've learned in the past. Each one cues the next step, until I get that cup of coffee. And that's how contexts work is once you've learned to habit, you just need to perceive the context, beans or ground, put them in the put them in the filter. And I do that automatically, without having to think that's how our habits are composed. That's how they get us acting is we perceive the context that we've seen in the past, and we give the response that we've given in the past, it comes automatically to mind and we don't have to wonder, hmm, now what do I do? I mean, that just doesn't happen. And we don't even ask ourselves I don't ask myself ever. Do I want coffee this morning? Or do I need it? Is this a morning where coffee is necessary, I just make it. And that's also characteristic of a habit is you're responding to the environment that you're in automatically in the same way that you've responded in the past.


Morten Andersen  21:31

So understanding how important the environment really is, in terms of forming a habit can help you in designing a habit so to speak. So we have a place where we have our, I would say naughty food, so that's where we have our candy and our chocolates and biscuits and so on. If I take that out and instead put a bowl of fruit instead, then I would basically go to the same place to get my candy in the afternoon, but instead of taking an apple Because that would be the one available. So understanding how designing the environment can help me form a new habit. I was also interested to read that when you look at people joining to gym, and look at how far people lift away from the gym, it was the people who live the closest to the gym that actually went more often. So there was an inverse correlation between the length you had to the gym and the how often that you went to the gym. I thought that was really interesting as well. So in all everything that we do, our context and our environment really plays a big role.


Wendy Wood  22:34

You're absolutely right. And those are some of my favorite studies. I think it's helpful to evaluate how much your environment helps you meet, the goals that you're trying to achieve, and how much it actually gets in your way. And this is something that that we refer to as friction. So environment has a certain amount of friction in it that can impede us, or actually can push us. So in your example of having unhealthy foods around, you can put friction on eating unhealthy food by putting it in the back of the cupboard. And it might sound like that's not going to have much effect. But we know from observing people in experiments, it has huge effect. In fact, the classic experiment on self control was done with little children in nursery school, by Walter Michelle, where he gave them marshmallows most of your audience would probably have heard of that study. One of the conditions that doesn't get talked about much is that when the children were given a marshmallow, but there was a cover put on it They were told you can lift the cover and take the marshmallow if you want to. But they just put the experimenters just put a cover on it so the kids couldn't see it. 75% of the kids were able to resist eating that single marshmallow Yes, with the cover on it. And these are four year olds. So even for your benefit from friction in the environment, a small amount, anything that adds distance, or makes a behavior slightly more difficult to do adds time. All of those are friction. And my current favorite study was was done trying to get people to take the stairs instead of using an elevator in an office building. What the experimenters did to begin with is they did just what we all think would work, which is they put big signs all over the elevator, take the stairs, it's better for your health saves the environment no effect. So everybody just kept taking the elevator didn't make any difference. So what they did next is they slowed the elevator door closing by 16 seconds, and a third of people started to take the stairs instead of the elevator. And after a month, when they put the elevator door back to its usual speed, most people stuck with the stairs because they formed a habit to do it. And they had learned the benefits of taking the stairs instead of that slow, irritating elevator. And they stuck with it. That's a fantastic example. So time can be friction as well. And this is something that marketers know well and take advantage of. So there's a saying in stores Among retailers store retailers, that eye level is by level, meaning what we can see easily, we're more likely to buy, which is why they put the really cheap foods down at the bottom by your feet where you have to reach over and get them or Way up high. And they put the daily promotions right at eye level, what they're trying to get you to buy, because we're also susceptible to this friction thing. And in online retailing, you see the same thing. Amazon, their one click ordering system was part of the basis of their success. They patented it for a while they had control over that. They knew that with two clicks, they lost customers, because that's time and time is friction action. friction. If you have to do something, try too hard struggled too much with it. You're just not much less likely to do it. And it's not the way we think we function. You know, we think, well, if it's important to me to go to the gym, of course, I'll go to the gym. Or if I want to take the elevator, of course, I'm going to take the elevator, 16 seconds. That's nothing.


Morten Andersen  27:25

But in fact, our behavior is very responsive to friction in the environment, in ways we don't understand. Fantastic. So, three parts of habit forming. The first one is context. The second one is repetition, but there is a common myth about repetition. I sometimes hear that you need to do something 21 times and then it stick. Can you tell us a little bit about what is up and down in terms of how many times do we need to do something before it's stick?


Wendy Wood  27:53

Well, habits are a learning mechanism right there a way we learn things and Some things are harder to learn than others, they're more complicated. So they're going to take more repetitions. My coffee making stuff started off with just a regular drip coffee maker. And that was easy to learn. And that took me maybe 10 times to before I was doing the same thing every time and I didn't have to think about it. But I now like cappuccinos. And they're much more complicated to me. So that took me watching a video of how to use the machine. I ended up buying grinder for my beans. So it's gotten very complicated. And that's taken much longer to learn. There is no one answer is what I'm trying to say.


Morten Andersen  28:54

So the more complicated the behavior is the longer time it takes. Is that fair?


Wendy Wood  28:59

Exactly. There was a wonderful study done by a colleague of mine, where she had people try to implement one new health behavior a day. And they were supposed to figure out a time of day or something else to some context to tie it to. And then just practice doing it once a day. And so some people, drinking a glass of water for breakfast, or other people that might be taking a walk before dinner. All of these were things that people in her study tried to do. And she found that it took about 66 days on average, for people to start doing these things automatically. And that's much longer than the 21 days we sometimes hear. And these were simple behaviors. So be patient with yourself. If it takes you a while to learn a habit, but going back to something else you brought up earlier, you can make it easier on yourself to repeat the behavior by organizing your environment in a way that reduces friction. So join a gym close by, or one that's on your way home from work or home from the store, put the food that you don't want to eat way in the back of the cupboard. So it's not sitting on your kitchen counter. Organize your environment so that it's easy to repeat the behaviors that you want to and harder to repeat the behaviors that will get in your way. Yes,


Morten Andersen  30:48

again, the three things of habit forming the context of repetition. The final one is reward and many talks about the importance of reward and I get it in theory. But at the same time, I think it's something that I find really hard to practice. There's also a couple of elements that you write about, that are important for rewards. One is that it needs to be significant. And another thing is to be unexpected. And I find both of those two find to be really difficult to implement myself. So they always say, when I do something, you know, go and reward yourself. But I actually find I actually struggle to do that myself. So I just wonder whether you can tell us a little bit about how does that look in practice?


Wendy Wood  31:33

Great question. Because I don't think most people understand how rewards work. We think of rewards as sort of like, well, the paycheck you get at the end of the month, or taking yourself out for a movie at the end of the week. If you've gone to the gym enough. Those aren't the kinds of rewards that build habits because they're too far removed from the behavior. They're too late. They're too distant. Instead habits built in the moment when you experience the reward as you're doing something. So I get that cup of coffee immediately when I'm done making coffee in the morning, when I work out, I listen to podcasts, books on tape, I watch stupid things on TV that I wouldn't normally watch that I find entertaining. I try to make sure that the reward is immediate. And that's why we form habits most readily for things we like things we enjoy, because that behavior is intrinsically rewarding. And the reward is delivered as you do it. Again, as a More sort of scientific reason why immediate rewards are important, and that it has to do with dopamine, that our brains release dopamine as we get rewards. And you're right, they release the most dopamine to unexpected rewards. So when you're having a particularly good workout that you really feel good about, you will release more dopamine. But dopamine works for only about a minute to tie together, the context you're in, and the response you gave. So it works for a short amount of time to build a habit. And that's why rewards given at the end of the month or tallies that you put on your calendar, keeping track of streaks, those kinds of things. They're not the kinds of rewards that build habits. rewards in the moment are what's important.


Morten Andersen  34:09

I have a personal thing that I've been thinking about as I also as I was reading your book, but also just thinking about habits in general, which is, you know, does age have anything to do with how easy and hard it is to make a habit or change a habit? And the reason why I was thinking that was really two things. One is that a lot of the studies we do at universities are done on students, and there are many practical reasons for that, but clearly they are young. Also soldiers we look at some times and they also young, and I just reflect with myself that it was a lot easier for me to break a habit or to make a new habit when I was 25. Then when I'm in my late 40s now, so I just wonder whether there is is that is that just me or is that can we see that the learning process of a new habit actually becomes easier. harder with with age?


Wendy Wood  35:02

Well, there's two answers to that. First off, let me say you're not old. You're not too old. Thank you. But one of the things that happens as we get older is that we structure our environments in certain ways. And we get used to that. And our habits are a product of our environment. So if we keep the environment the same, and it's been the same for the past 1015 years, then we're going to find it harder to change our behavior. College students are very much in flux. They're still setting up their lives, even after they get out of school they are so it's easier to change habits when you're undergoing some change in your life. There's a name for that. It's called habit discontinuity. It's why some people report that they can quit smoking or go on a diet more easily when they're on vacation, because everything around them has changed and their structure to their life has changed. So the old habits are no longer activated. And they can think it's a reason why. When you move to a new place, you feel exhausted a lot of the time, because you don't have your old habits to fall back on. And you have to continually make decisions. But it's also an opportunity because you get to make decisions that fit your goals now, and so you can shift some of those old behaviors that maybe weren't working for you quite as well. So that's one answer is stable environments. We tend to have more stable environments as we get older. If you shift your environment, you'll find habits are easier to form new habits are easier to form. There's a second answer. And that is, as you get older, we're talking 60s, our neural frame ability declines. It just does mental acuity declines. And that's true both for our thinking decision making cells, as well as for habit formation. So we find it less easy to form new habits simply because we don't have the same mental skills as younger people do once we hit 60. That's one reason I think, I don't know that there's research data on this, but I think it's one reason why older people stick with established habits is it's just harder to form new ones. And it's harder to make decisions. So those old habits are still there.


Morten Andersen  38:02

So I take two things away. One is that if I want to change a habit, do it at the beginning of my summer holiday. So I can I can I can get into a routine before the end of the summer holiday. And the second one is I still have some years to go to form new morning routines if I, if I want to change them.


Wendy Wood  38:20



Morten Andersen  38:21

I want to try to be a little bit concrete and see how this works in real life. And actually, in your book, you have a great chapter where you take a very concrete example, the chapter is called How to stop looking at your phone so often, and that really struck a chord with me because I look at my phone very often. So can you walk us through what advice you would give from a habit point of view in terms of changing that habit?


Wendy Wood  38:47

Yes. So basically, you want to make that decision, and then realize willpower is not going to be the answer. It might seem You have made that decision today and you're going to stick with it. But as we've talked about, willpower backfires, and it tends to be very flexible. So recognize that willpower isn't going to be the way forward here. Second thing is think about how to put friction on checking your phone constantly. So what I do is I take my phone, and I put it whenever I am at a meeting or at dinner, I put it face down, or I put it in a back pocket. So I'm not tempted to check it, putting it away from you, is amazingly liberating. Because then you're not thinking about it. And you're not cued by the sight of it to pick it up. If you're bored. Leaving it at home isn't easy. Even better option many times, because then you definitely can't check it. But anything you do that adds friction makes it more difficult will help you stop looking at your phone. And so stopping those alerts that continually keep you checking your phone is another effective way of controlling its impact on you. People who design these technologies know, how habit forming they are. I mean, when you think about it, we all look at our phone about 80 times a day on average. And how many of those times do we actually learn something interesting? Yes, maybe once and that's a good day. That's that intermittent reinforcement that you were talking about before? That the phone provides us. It's like gambling, we don't know when we're going to get hit the jackpot. And actually learn something interesting on social media. Most of the time, we lose, and we don't learn anything. But that one time keeps us checking keeps us checking our phone carrying our phone around with us over and over again. cellphone designers know an awful lot about human behavior. And it allows them to to have gained a great deal of control over over us. And that's one of the reasons I wrote the book is I wanted people to understand more about how to gain control back over their environment over their technology, so that they can meet their own goals. And they won't feel so overwhelmed and out of control. In in modern context, it's It's easy to feel like you're owned by your phone instead of the reverse.


Morten Andersen  42:04

So the first thing is to make a decision, say I want to look at my phone less often. And then it is to realize that your willpower is not going to do it. So you need to change something in your environment. And the first thing you can do as you can add, you can add some friction, you can put your phone on silent, you can put it away you can maybe not even take it with you when you're leaving the house. You can also put something on top so it so you say to yourself, every time that I checked my phone, I have to call somebody, my somebody from my family. So therefore it actually cost you something extra to look at your phone because you've told yourself to do something in addition to looking at your phone, so it actually cost you something to look at your phone. So anything you can do to add friction to looking at your phone will help you change your behavior around your phone. Is that is that correct?


Wendy Wood  42:58

Yes. And help you learn new habits. And it's a great example of calling say, older relatives who you might not normally have contact with on a regular basis, trying checking your phone to something that is costly for you, as you say. So take some time, but also is rewarding, and it's something that you wish you did more often. If you can add that to the behavior, it will help you form new habits.


Morten Andersen  43:34

So if we have a listener, thinking about a particular thing that he or she wants to stop doing, or start doing so good habits or stopping a bad habit, what three advice would you give that person in order to make that happen?


Wendy Wood  43:51

figure out the easiest way to do the behavior and how you can organize your environment. To make it easy, make sure that you enjoy the behavior. It's rewarding in some way. If it's not rewarding, you're not going to repeat it into a habit. And one of the questions I often get is, people say they want to exercise or they want to eat more healthfully, but they just don't like it. So finding an exercise that you enjoy or adding something to the exercise, doing it with a friend, getting a dog that constantly needs to be walked, finding some way to make it rewarding for you is what's going to work fast. So find some way to make it rewarding. I think that's the key with vegetables, eating fruit and vegetables, eating more healthfully. There are ways of cooking vegetables these days that my mother never actually understood. So It is possible to actually learn to like vegetables that you might have thought were not really in your repertoire. So finding new ways to cook things is also an option if you want to eat more healthfully, but that reward has to be there. None of us are going to be able to make ourselves repeat something that we hate on a regular basis.


Morten Andersen  45:26

No. Okay, um, I want to say thank you very much for taking the time to speak with me about habits. Not only is habits phenomenally important to our everyday we do it a lot. And sometimes it stand in our way of achieving what we want to do. Sometimes it's actually the habit we want to change. But regardless habits is something that we need to face if we want to make a change and make it stick. Again, I think your book is phenomenal. I think it's really good. It's very practical in explaining and documenting very clearly why it is that habits are important, but also how they form and how you can use that to make or break habits. So I want to thank you very much for taking the time to come in and speak with me.


Wendy Wood  46:10

Lovely talking with you Morten, thank you for having me.


Morten Andersen  46:13

Thank you very much. habits are fascinating. For many reasons. They scare us because they remind us that there are parts of our lives, parts of ourselves that we do not control. But at the same time habits can help us in our daily lives. Having a string of good habits can help us study well. live healthy, have good relations with our dear ones and be effective at work. So understanding habits is therefore crucial. If you want to make a change and make it stick. I took three things from the interview with Wendy. One, willpower and self control will not get you far. willpower will help you in one offs. situations and when you want to start a new habit. But as Wendy said, you cannot suppress desire, not with the strongest will. People with great willpower actually just have great habits. good habits and bad habits are born from the same three elements, context, repetition and rewards. Context is our environment, which can help or hinder a habit. If the candy jar is placed a little further away, that will cause friction and help you to break that habit. And repetition is the mother of skill. You need to continue to do things over and over again to make it automatic and no 21 times is not enough. Rewards create dopamine connection to the behavior and makes it a little bit more likely that you will do it again. Three, your habits are your friends. I used to think that it was only my rational contract. Mind, which was the real me. But instead of seeing the hidden part of ourselves as something to fight against, see it as a friend who relieves mental energy for you to pay more attention to the things which really matters. You really should read her book good habits, bad habits. I learned a lot from it. So thanks to Wendy for her insights. If you like the interview and want to hear more, please press the subscribe button. Also, if you did like the interview, I will appreciate if you would give it a five star feedback. It helps a lot for our reach. Until next time, take care

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