The word habit is pulled from the Latin words habere, which means "have, consist of," and habitus, which means "condition, or state of being." It also is derived from the French word habit (pronounced \ah-bee\), which means clothes. In the 13th century, the word habit first just referred to clothing. The meaning then progressed to the more common use of the word, which is "acquired mode of behavior."
Habit formation is the process by which a behavior, through regular repetition, becomes automatic or habitual. This is modeled as an increase in automaticity with the number of repetitions up to an asymptote. This process of habit formation can be slow. Lally et al. (2010) found the average time for participants to reach the asymptote of automaticity was 66 days with a range of 18–254
There are 3 main components to habit formation: the context cue, behavioral repetition, and the reward. The context cue can be a prior action, time of day, location, or anything that triggers the habitual behavior. This could be anything that one's mind associates with that habit, and one will automatically let a habit come to the surface. The behavior is the actual habit that one exhibits, and the reward, such as a positive feeling, therefore continues the "habit loop". A habit may initially be triggered by a goal, but over time that goal becomes less necessary and the habit becomes more automatic. Intermittent or uncertain rewards have been found to be particularly effective in promoting habit learning.
A variety of digital tools, online or mobile apps, have been introduced that are designed to support habit formation. For example, Habitica is a system that uses gamification, implementing strategies found in video games to real-life tasks by adding rewards such as experience and gold. However, a review of such tools suggests most are poorly designed with respect to theory and fail to support the development of automaticity.
Shopping habits are particularly vulnerable to change at "major life moments" like graduation, marriage, the birth of the first child, moving to a new home, and divorce. Some stores use purchase data to try to detect these events and take advantage of the marketing opportunity.
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Some habits are known as "keystone habits," and these influence the formation of other habits. For example, identifying as the type of person who takes care of their body and is in the habit of exercising regularly, can also influence eating better and using credit cards less. In business, safety can be a keystone habit that influences other habits that result in greater productivity.
A recent study by Adriaanse et al. (2014) found that habits mediate the relationship between self-control and unhealthy snack consumption. The results of the study empirically demonstrate that high self-control may influence the formation of habits and in turn affect behavior.
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The habit–goal interface or interaction is constrained by the particular manner in which habits are learned and represented in memory. Specifically, the associative learning underlying habits is characterized by the slow, incremental accrual of information over time in procedural memory. Habits can either benefit or hurt the goals a person sets for themselves.
Goals guide habits by providing the initial outcome-oriented motivation for response repetition. In this sense, habits are often a trace of past goal pursuit. Although, when a habit forces one action, but a conscious goal pushes for another action, an oppositional context occurs. When the habit prevails over the conscious goal, a capture error has taken place.
Behavior prediction is also derived from goals. Behavior prediction acknowledges the likelihood that a habit will form, but in order to form that habit, a goal must have been initially present. The influence of goals on habits is what makes a habit different from other automatic processes in the mind.
The following is a description of a classic goal devaluation experiment (from a Scientific American MIND guest blog post called Should Habits or Goals Direct Your Life? It Depends) which demonstrates the difference between goal-directed and habitual behavior: