Building Habits

March 10, 2021
Wendy Wood

Episode Details

This episode is special. It features a conversation with the world-renowned habit researcher, Wendy Wood. Wendy has devoted the last 30 years to researching how habits work and recently published the fantastic book Good Habits, Bad Habits.

We cover all things habits, from the difference between habits vs. routines to the impact of reward and context on habit formation. If you're curious to understand habits better, this episode is for you!


Wendy's website (where you can find here book) and her Twitter

Wendy's labs habit research

‍Habit Weekly Pro πŸš€

Key points:

Changing attitudes is often not enough – even when we change people's attitude, their behavior doesn't always follow. And it's the behavior we care about, what they do. The average person rarely distinguish between habits, behavior, intentions, beliefs and attitudes. "It's all all the same, all part of me and my decision making". It's important to differentiate these things as our brains consist of different systems that helps us accomplish different things. There's a habit learning system designed specifically to pick up repetition of behaviour in a given context that generated some form of reward. We can think of reward as not money, but what makes you feel good. Habits are the context response associations that you form in memory, when you repeat a behaviour, often enough for the for it to become automatic. Additionally, routines are simply sequences of habit. We can can change people's attitudes and beliefs for short periods, but these changes can disappear once they go back to real life if we fail to change the system. We need to understand the broader influences on someone's behavior in order to design contextual cues and rewards that helps them respond in new ways long-term.


00:16: Episode overview

01:33: Interview starts

02:00: Wendy details her background and how she got started researching habits

03:55: Differentiating habits and behavior

06:50: Distinguishing between routines and habits

08:10: The automaticity of bias associations compared to the automaticity of habits

10:50: Can one-off trainings really be used to create new habits

13:16: Changing day-to-day environments and systems to change habits

16:28: Sam tells an anecdote about the influence of context on habits

18:30: The temporal dynamic of habit activation

20:42: Recurring contextual associations with a habit

21:27: Internal states as context cues for habits

23:52: Incentivising habits with rewards

26:54: Case study: encouraging use of an office’s stairs over an elevator

29:40: Best way to incentivise new habits

33:57: How is frequency related to establishing a new habit

35:30: The generalisation of habits

37:10: Overrated vs Underrated

Having a car Experience sampling Behaviorism The clean plate club Paris The marshmallow study Sidewalks Rituals Mise en place

44:47: What bad habit has been Wendy’s greatest nemesis in her personal life

47:36: Concluding remarks


Timestamps & shownotes compiled by Keith Broni πŸ†

The song used is Murgatroyd by David Pizzaro.


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