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Surprising Science

The Science of Habits, Good and Bad

Repeating a certain behavior wears a path in the mind, whether it is speaking a foreign language or smoking cigarettes. Here is a scientific approach to acquiring better habits. 

What’s the Latest Development?


A new book takes a scientific approach to how we develop different habits, whether it is the ease that comes from repeating complex behaviors like learning a musical instrument, or chemical dependencies like alcohol addiction. The book is Charles Duhigg’s “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business” and in it, the author says that by understanding how we create habits, good and bad, we can take responsibility for our behavior and even help change the orientation of society. 

What’s the Big Idea?

Duhigg identifies four ways habits are formed. One is repetition. By repeating a behavior, such as practicing the guitar, we wear grooves in the mind. To change a habit, we must begin learning a new routine and repeating it over and over. Other habits are formed through chemical dependencies, often requiring intensive treatment and strong community support to overcome. Another kind of habit is formed by obeying social norms. In 1984, 85 percent of people did not wear seat belts. Today, 85 percent of people do wear seat belts. Scientists say perhaps the most effective way to change behavior is to change how that behavior is perceived. Finally, other habits are formed mentally, i.e. how we think of ourselves influences many of our behaviors. 


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