Habits are the holy grail of behaviour change
In a nutshell
- Habits are automatic and repetitive, and often we do them without fully registering our actions.
- There is a big difference between growing an existing habit compared to starting a new habit.
- Harnessing a disruption, overcoming uncertainty and dialling up rewards are some key considerations and barriers to overcome.
Habits are automatic and repetitive – and we enact them without fully registering our actions.
For organisations who are chasing long-lasting behaviour change, this is important. We don’t want people to stop speeding for a week, or stop smoking for a night. We want to change behaviours for a lifetime.
That’s where habits come in. If we can switch one-off behaviours into automatic and repeated habits, we’re taking steps toward behaviour change that sticks.
New users vs. Existing users
When it comes to habitual behaviour, there’s a big difference between strengthening an existing habit, compared to getting someone to start a new habit.
Picture yourself moving to a new city and you're trying to organise your first trip on their public transport network – you need to get a transport card, learn your route, how frequent it is, and where your stop is. It’s a very different proposition to increasing existing users who already have a card and already know their public transport routes in their area.
Starting new habits
When it comes to starting a new behaviour for first-time users, there are some key considerations and barriers to overcome. In particular: harnessing a disruption, overcoming uncertainty and dialling up the rewards.
Based on the well-established habit loop by Charles Duhigg, TRA set out to add an additional layer of thinking to habits – how can the habit loop be adapted for first-time behaviours?
We analysed five different habit models and over 60 case studies in order to understand how cues and rewards can be applied to first-time behaviours.
Your checklist for starting new habits:
☑ Disruption: Taking advantage of a disruption to the status quo is the prime time to instil a new habit. Consider key events that change how people live their lives – changes to employment, moving house, having a child/grandchild, health events, holidays or studying.
☑ Social support: Seeing others doing the desired behaviour can help prompt that behaviour, especially if they have trusted messengers - such as, friends, family, and colleagues. How might we dial up referrals, ratings, recommendations or support and guidance from others?
☑ Reduce uncertainty: Ambiguity aversion is our tendency to dislike uncertainty and prefer what is known. For first-time users, how might we signal what to expect, give them confidence, reassurance and reduce uncertainty?
☑ Trial and practice: Give new users opportunities to trial and practice the new behaviour so they feel confident going forward. Consider trials, lessons, demonstrations, how-to-guides and tutorials.
☑ Dial up the rewards: First-time users often need further incentives and rewards to commit to trying a new behaviour. How might we dial up the rewards and add further incentives for first-time users?
☑ Immediacy: The timing of the reward is important – providing a reward immediately after the behaviour can forge a strong positive association. How might we bring the reward even closer to the behaviour?