Habits & Behavior Change

Throughout the summer I will be exploring behavior change and habits. I feel that in order to practice good design, it is important to understand habit and behavior change. My experience has revealed that  implementing a new design concept can impede on existing habits and behavior. Changing the behavior of individuals to implement a design can be extremely difficult and requires a great deal of consideration. Even in circumstances where individuals recognize the need for change and desire a new design or solution there can be hesitation and resistance in adopting the new design. Understanding habits and behavior change can help me understand how to minimize these obstacles.

My professor Jeremy Beaudry shared a link to an “Ideacast” that discusses habit and why we do the things we do. Here, Charles Duhigg distinguishes between behavior and habit and explains why it is so difficult to change out habits. Charles explains that habits are controlled in a central part of the brain that is separate from the part we use for making decisions. Once a habit is formed, performing that habit requires little effort and thought. The action is being processed in a part of the brain that is not where we have most of our thoughts.

Charles continues by explaining that every habit has 3 components: a cue, a routine, and a reward. The cue is what triggers the routine. The routine is the habit which is what seems to be an automatic action. The reward is the satisfaction from the whole process. This reward is how the brain remembers the pattern for future reference. To change a habit, you must be able to recognize these three components.

The example Charles gives is a personal story about a cookie craving that usually occurred around 3:00 in the afternoon; this was his cue. The routine that followed was a trip to the cafeteria where he would satisfy his craving by eating a cookie. Understanding the reward was the hardest part.

The reward was in the package of the cookie but Charles needed to identify what about the cookie (or the routine of eating the cookie) was what causing this habit. After carefully examining the routine and trying different rewards he realized he wasn’t crazing a sweet, edible snack but rather a break from his work where he could socialize with his coworkers. Charles’ desire to socialize in the cafeteria was causing this misterious hunger craving. Now, everyday around 3:00, Charles takes a break from work to get out of his workspace and talk to his coworkers.

Understanding habits and how they work will help me develop stronger designs regardless of the subject matter. Incorporating a method for individuals to identify their cues and helping them understand the rewards can help encourage behavior change.

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