Good Habits, Bad Habits: The Science of Making Positive Changes That Stick

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Writer: Wendy Wood


In her enlightening debut, Wood, professor of psychology at USC, rejects the popular narrative that links willpower to lasting behavioral change and instead proposes that most human conduct stems from learned habits, not conscious decision-making. Wood contends that the way to create new behavioral patterns that will eventually become second nature is to engage in constant, repetitive action. Wood acknowledges research that shows that some people might possess innate powers of self-control that defy the norm. Still, she argues that these supposedly high levels of restraint should be understood as efficient habit formation. She eloquently explains current research on the role habits play in everyday activities such as snacking, exercising, and commuting. She also offers strategies for stopping undesirable habits by disrupting the contexts that enable them, and shares real-life examples of habit change. For instance, she demonstrates how laws banning smoking in public spaces forced a widespread shift in habits and led to a national decline in smoking. Her insightful, data-driven advice includes tactics such as “stacking”—grouping desired behaviors together with already-established behavioral patterns to incorporate actions into routines. Wood’s research and perspective on the malleability of habits will bring hope to any reader looking to create long-term behavioral change.

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