Habit automaticity takes very-many consistent repetitions

Habit automaticity built up asymptotically

Example of increase in automaticity

Habit automaticity on desired new habits was measured daily

…participants were asked to choose a healthy eating, drinking or exercise behaviour that they would like to make into a habit. Participants were asked to try to carry out the behaviour every day for 84 days.

SRHI scores were the primary outcome measures… The behaviour of interest is followed by statements to which participants report their level of agreement; example items are ‘I do automatically’, ‘I do without thinking’ and ‘I would find hard not to do’. We created an automaticity subscale… which gave a total score range of 0–42.

Habit automaticity built fast at first, built slower later, and approached a maximum

…the relationship between repetition and habit strength follows an asymptotic curve in which automaticity increases steadily—but by a smaller amount with each repetition—until it reaches an asymptote (plateau).

SPSS Version 14 was used… to fit a curve for each individual’s data… using Mitscherlich’s law of diminishing returns (y=a-be-cx),
y is automaticity and
x is day of the study…
a’ represents the asymptote of the curve (the automaticity plateau score),
b’ is the difference between the asymptote and the modelled initial value of y (when x=0) and
c’ is the rate constant that represents the rate at which the maximum is reached.

  • An asymptotic model proved to be a good fit for almost half (48%) of the participants who provided enough data for analysis.
  • Those for whom the asymptotic model was a poor fit had typically carried out the behaviour fewer times during the study.
  • Two other groups of participants had relatively high levels of performance; one for whom the model could not be fitted and one with a very high modelled asymptote. It is probable that these individuals were relatively slow in forming their habits and would have reached a plateau if the recording had continued for longer.

On average …the fit of the asymptotic curve was superior to the linear model. We are therefore reasonably confident that the asymptotic curve reflects a generalized habit formation process.

Habit automaticity plateaued only after very many repetitions

We were only able to find one statement in the literature discussing how long it takes to for a habit… once it has been ‘performed frequently (at least twice a month) and extensively (at least 10 times)’…

Our study has shown that it is likely to take much longer than this for a repeated behaviour to reach its maximum level of automaticity.

Early repetitions result in larger increases in automaticity than those later in the habit formation process, and there is a point at which the behaviour cannot become more automatic even with further repetition.

The average modelled time to plateau in this sample was 66 days, but the range was from 18 to 254 days.

Habit automaticity built better when repetitions were consistent

…even in this study where the participants were motivated to create habits, approximately half did not perform the behavior consistently enough to achieve habit status.

…missing one opportunity does not preclude habit formation, but missing a week’s worth of opportunities reduces the likelihood of future performance and hinders habit acquisition.

… individuals who performed the behaviour more consistently showed a change in automaticity scores which was modelled more closely by an asymptotic curve.

Habit automaticity required more repetitions for habits that were more complex

…it can take a large number of repetitions for an individual to reach their highest level of automaticity for some behaviours…

It is notable that the exercise group took one and a half times longer to reach their asymptote than the other two groups. Given that exercising can be considered more complex than eating or drinking, this supports the proposal that complexity of the behaviour impacts the development of automaticity.

…creating new habits will require self-control to be maintained for a significant period before the desired behaviours acquire the necessary automaticity to be performed without self-control.

…reaching a higher asymptote took longer.[1]

  1. Lally, Phillippa, et al. “How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world.European journal of social psychology 40.6 (2010): 998-1009.

Improve health easily by making small changes

A runner takes a small step forward to improve health easily.

Would you like to improve your health, but making changes seems too overwhelming? Does going to the gym five days a week for 45 minutes trigger hyperventilation, or does just thinking about eating only healthy food leads you to fear of deprivation and starvation? Changes like these are easier to accomplish one step at a time.

Let’s tackle the issue of exercise. Instead of setting an initial goal of going to the gym five times a week for 45 minutes, let’s set a more realistic goal. Your first goal is to do a little preliminary groundwork:

  • For starters, perhaps you need to have a conversation with your doctor.
  • Researching different kinds of exercise to determine what might be the least unpleasant to you and fits your lifestyle is also a good preliminary step. Do you see yourself as a going-to-the-gym person, a working-out-at-home person, or a running- or walking-person? Let’s say you decide that working out at home is a better option for you.
  • Next you can look at which DVDs might interest you or which equipment you might need. I’m betting that purchasing DVDs, a yoga mat, a few weights, and some workout shoes is cheaper than most gym memberships. Plus, you won’t have to wait on other customers at a gym to finish with the equipment you need to use and you won’t have to take time from your schedule to drive to and from the gym.

Once you’ve laid the groundwork, you’re ready for the next step. Start the exercise program. But start it slowly. This approach will also make it less likely that you will injure yourself:

  • Initially, your only goal is to get some exercise into your schedule. For example, maybe you’re going to work out at home on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. If that’s the case, for the first week, all you do is a five-minute warm-up. Five minutes, you say? What a waste of time, you say. Remember, your initial goal is to just get it in your schedule.
  • After the first or second week, you can add a minute or two to your exercise program. And then after that, you can add another minute or two and so on. You can always find another minute or two, but it is very difficult to suddenly find 45 minutes plus drive-time five times a week.

This same idea can be used for improving your diet. Make one change a month:

  • For example, maybe you need to start by drinking more water. If so, that’s the only change you make for the first month.
  • Maybe you need to cut out a few desserts. If that’s the case, then that’s the change you make the second month. If you typically have dessert after most evening meals, maybe you start by cutting out dessert only on Monday nights and then a few weeks later cutting out dessert also on Thursday nights.
  • If you’re drinking too much caffeine, start by cutting out that last cup of coffee of the day. A few weeks later, you can cut out that second cup.

I think you get the idea. Set goals that are achievable, not overwhelming. Set goals that you can be successful at reaching. Success always feels better than failure. If you continue with setting achievable goals, just think where you’ll be in one year.

Pretty amazing, huh? Good luck and you can do it![2]

  1. Schuckles, Erica. “What is a Gait Analysis and Why Do You Need One?” Active.com, www.active.com/running/articles/what-is-a-gait-analysis-and-why-do-you-need-one. Accessed 9 Jan. 2017.
  2. Anthony, Michele. “Better Health is Easier than You Think.” MicheleAnthonyTherapy.com, 9 Jan. 2017, micheleanthonytherapy.com/better-health/. Accessed 14 Jan. 2017.

Sudden death can be prevented by self-screening

Views of progression from normal artery to acute myocardial infarction and sudden death[1]

Every year, more than 1 million people in the United States and more than 19 million others worldwide experience a sudden cardiac event (acute coronary syndromes and/or sudden cardiac death). A large portion of this population has no prior symptom.[2]

Preparticipation health screening by self-reported medical history or health risk appraisal should be done for all individuals wishing to initiate a physical activity program. These self-guided methods can be easily accomplished by using such instruments as… an adaptation of the AHA/ACSM Health/Fitness Facility Preparticipation Screening Questionnaire:

Assess your health status by marking all true statements

You have had:
­__ a heart attack
__ heart surgery
__ cardiac catheterization
__ coronary angioplasty (PTCA)
__ pacemaker/implantable cardiac defibrillator/rhythm disturbance
__ heart valve disease
__ heart failure
__ heart transplantation
__ congenital heart disease

__ You experience chest discomfort with exertion
__ You experience unreasonable breathlessness
__ You experience dizziness, fainting, or blackouts
__ You experience ankle swelling
__ You experience unpleasant awareness of a forceful or rapid heart rate
__ You take heart medications

Other health issues
__ You have diabetes
__ You have asthma or other lung disease
__ You have burning or cramping sensation in your lower legs when walking short distance
__ You have musculoskeletal problems that limit your physical activity
__ You have concerns about the safety of exercise
__ You take prescription medications
__ You are pregnant

If you marked any of the statements in the section, consult your physician or other appropriate health care provider before engaging in exercise. You may need to use a facility with a medically qualified staff.

Cardiovascular risk factors
__ You are a man ≥45 yr
__ You are a woman  ≥55 yr
__ You smoke or quit smoking within the previous 6 mo
__ Your blood pressure is ≥140/90 mm Hg
__ You do not know your blood pressure
__ You take blood pressure medication
__ Your blood cholesterol level is ≥200 mg ∙ dL-1
__ You do not know your cholesterol level
__ You have a close blood relative who had a heart attack or heart surgery before age 55 (father or brother) or age 65 (mother or sister)
__ You are physically inactive (i.e., you get <30 min of physical activity on at least 3 d per week)
__ You have a body mass index ≥30 kg ∙ m-2
__ You have prediabetes
__ You do not know if you have prediabetes

If you marked two or more of the statements in this section you should consult your physician or other appropriate health care as part of good medical care and progress gradually with your exercise program. You might benefit from using a facility with a professionally qualified exercise staff a to guide your exercise program.

__ None of the above

You should be able to exercise safely without consulting your physician or other appropriate health care provider in a self-guide program or almost any facility that meets your exercise program needs.[3]

  1. Libby, Peter, Paul M. Ridker, and Attilio Maseri. “Inflammation and atherosclerosis.Circulation 105.9 (2002): 1135-1143.
  2. Naghavi, Morteza, and Erling Falk. “From vulnerable plaque to vulnerable patient.Asymptomatic Atherosclerosis. Humana Press, 2011. pp. 13-38.
  3. American College of Sports Medicine. ACSM’s guidelines for exercise testing and prescription. 9th ed., Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2014. pp. 23, 25.