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Make It Specific! Make It Personal !

We are largely unconscious of our daily habits - they are automatic. Using a technique called Implementation Intentions we recently enabled people to change to more sustainable habits in the home - laundry, showering and wasting less food - through 'habit plans'. These plans raised consciousness for a time, were specific and personal. Over a short period these new sustainable behaviours became automatic themselves - new habits! Could 'habit plans' do the same for recycling?

Photo of paul white
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I have been involved in some fascinating research recently conducted in the UK which used Implementation Intentions (see Golwitzer and Sheeran's work 2008) as a means to influence the sustainable habits of small groups of consumers: Washing at 30 degrees, hanging out the washing to dry, using a shopping list, using fresh food, taking a shorter shower and taking a cooler shower. Implementation Intentions use 'if-then' habit plans which involves the formation of simple ‘if-then’ statements which pre-motivated individuals adopt and rehearse, until their new habit becomes ‘encoded’ in their daily routine. These plans help people to ‘get started’ and ‘stay on track’ where good intentions alone are insufficient to make lasting change. Over 75% of our small groups (69 participants in total) changed habit, and increased habit strength. The research was conducted for Defra - a UK Government Department during 2012/13 and the results should be published later this year.

Why were these habit plans successful? Firstly, by raising the person's consciousness of what they actually do in carrying out their existing habit. Secondly, their habit plans addressed personal 'problems', identifying  specific elements of their habitual behaviour. For example, "If I am next washing my bed linen, then I will run a trial at 30" (rather than simply "wash everything at 30").

It requires effort to make changes to habits. After a short period (less than 4 weeks we found in general), no further effort was required for most - they had formed new habits.

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Photo of Teng Zhang

I believe this the a great idea to let people recycling more through changing their habits. It is so true that people are wasting resources unconsciously during their daily life. If using the Implementation Intentions could give people that conscious and let them know what to do and how to do, then people will live more healthy and eco-friendly. Furthermore, this change is made through transforming people's habit and will last a long time without problem of persist.

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