Why Are Healthy Habits so Hard to Form? Is It You, or the Habit?

Jacob S Quartuccio

Advisor: Patrick E McKnight, PhD, Department of Psychology

Committee Members: Todd Kashdan, Tyler Shaw

David J. King Hall, #2072A
June 22, 2017, 02:00 PM to 04:00 PM


Prior habit development research focused on may aspects of the individual, including the mechanism of acquisition and individual differences in habit formation, but none focus on the nature of the habits themselves. This compilation of three studies provides a rational for a change and focus and details a novel approach to complement prior work in the area of habit formation. Each of the studies recruited undergraduate participants to form new habits for 8-12 weeks. Study 1 (N = 58) had participants from two habits sequentially to see if the habit or the person is more relevant for forming new habits. Study 2 (N = 83) used Transcranial Doppler sonography (TCD) to see if habit difficulty decreases with habit strength. Study 3 (N = 71) tested two different approaches to forming new habits to see which one leads to stronger habits. The results show the person is far more relevant that forming more habits than the habit choice (50% of the variance explained by the person and 6% explained by the habit). TCD was not able to detect differences in workload as habit strength increased. Forming habits sequentially (one at a time) was a more successful strategy for forming two habits at once than forming both at the same time. The results suggest that people ought to focus on becoming better at forming new habits (as opposed to picking habits that are easier to form) and that a proper habit formation strategy facilitates forming new habits.