Creating new habits

Many readers would be familiar with the model of unconscious and conscious competence. If not then please keep reading because it is included in its briefest form below. However you might be aware that established habits demand little conscious effort. It is presumably an evolutionary advantage to be able to do something until it now longer requires conscious awareness to be competent at it. Take, writing, reading, driving, cooking and bringing someone a cup of tea in the morning.

In the European Journal of Social Psychology (October 2010, 40(6), p. 998–1009) there was an interesting article How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world. The authors Phillippa Lally, Cornelia H. M. van Jaarsveld, Henry W. W. Potts, and Jane Wardle

Some of thinking included “Performing an action for the first time requires planning, even if plans are formed only moments before the action is performed, and attention. As behaviours are repeated in consistent settings they then begin to proceed more efficiently and with less thought as control of the behaviour transfers to cues in the environment that activate an automatic response: a habit. How long does it take to form a habit? This question is often asked by individuals who want to acquire healthy habits or those who want to promote behaviour change.”

And also, given the other articles about the demotivational effects of bonuses on this site “The role of reinforcement/rewards in habit development and maintenance is unclear. In the behaviourist tradition, habit strength has been considered to be a function of repetition only when rewards are received for performing the behaviour upon encountering a cue (Hull, 1943, 1951); without reinforcement there can be no habits.”

They asked 96 undergraduates to form a habit in 12 weeks by repeating daily a healthy behaviour

Part of the methodology included the following “At the initial meeting, participants were asked to choose a healthy eating, drinking or exercise behaviour that they would like to make into a habit. The behaviour had to be one that (i) they did not already do, (ii) could be performed in response to a salient daily event (cue) and (iii) had a cue that occurred every day and only once a day. Examples of the behaviours chosen were ‘eating a piece of fruit with lunch’, ‘drinking a bottle of water with lunch’ and ‘running for 15 minutes before dinner’. Participants were asked to try to carry out the behaviour every day for 84 days.”

Does this sound familiar to anyone? Imagine a New Years resolution going for 84 days. ☺

And what did they find?

Well, simply put, it seems that habits take much longer to form than previous researchers thought, with an average of nine and a half weeks and as long as several months but, on the good side or other hand, missing a day or two here or there does not undo the good work. They called habit building – developing automaticity.

And of interest again because of the other articles about using rewards to motivate behaviour they wrote “For the majority of participants, automaticity increased steadily over the days of the study supporting the assumption that repeating a behaviour in a consistent setting increases automaticity. We provided no extrinsic rewards, indicating that they are not required for habit development, although because the behaviours were selected by the participants they were likely to have been intrinsically rewarding.”

Often in the work done at Moreno and the Moreno Collegium, we are faced with participants who are keen to develop good, new behaviours that will benefit them, their families and work colleagues. This research is a good beginning for being able to consider how human beings develop good habits not just illuminated, enlightened super beings.

Here is the link to the article:
And if you want a copy for educational purposes then please email me directly.


Promised brief article from above.


Conscious competence and all that stuff - Learning over time.

This model has a questionable provenance and has been around the adult training traps for many years. This is the idea that a person moves from

Unconscious Incompetence
Don't know what I don't know

First up we don’t know what we don’t know. In training in a area that is new this is especially so. However our cultural training in life usually means it is risky to say to others or even admit to ourselves that we don’t know. The implications of not knowing are things like being foolish, being dumb, being stupid and being slow. Avoidance of the feelings that go with these ideas is often a hindrance to learning. However when we are bold enough to allow ourselves to not know then we can move into Conscious Incompetence.

Conscious Incompetence - to -
Know what I don't know

Knowing that we don’t know something can be very freeing unless our jobs depend on it. Once we know we don’t know then we can actively plan a process to learn and develop. This process itself can also muck up how we normally do things. For instance when we try and improve the way we do something that is very regular in our lives - for instance play a sport, drive a car, use a computer or cook a meal then our usual style can be compromised and we actually do worse than we might have done before. The sports grip doesn’t feel right. The way we type doesn’t work any more. The way we corner in the car doesn’t ‘feel natural’. The way we run meetings seems to be uncomfortable, and isn't everyone looking at me? We can become self conscious during this time.

Conscious Competence - to -
Know how to do it consciously

As we develop our competency we move through from tentative competency through adequacy. Usually this stage of learning requires remaining thoughtful and conscious as we are utilising our newish skill.

Unconscious Competence.
Don't know what I do know - I just do it – automaticity?

Eventually this skill or learning becomes natural to us and in this model we become Unconsciously Competent. Or in what was discussed in the article above - we develop automaticity.