« The Happiness Lab with Dr. Laurie Santos

How to Kick Bad Habits (and Start Good Ones)


We all have bad habits - things we eat, drink, do or say that cause us unhappiness. We repeat these behaviours over and over again - almost as if we are on autopilot. But we can break free from them, and use the mechanics of habit formation to make doing good things feel effortless.

Dr Laurie Santos meets a scientist who sleeps in her running gear and a former army doctor who went to Vietnam to fight a wave of heroin abuse in the military and discovered something startling about habits.

For an even deeper dive into the research we talk about in the show visit happinesslab.fm

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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
Pushed him before you begin to enjoy this new episode, happiness lad. I wanted to check in about how this and other seas into episodes relate to the current crisis. We are all facing my. When I started work on this new season long before anyone had heard of covert nineteen, but the corona this pandemic has now changed all of our lives in ways that It seemed almost unimaginable back then I mean the list is pretty grim isolation, illness loss in grief as well as a high disruption to a lot of our careers, and even the disks many jobs, we debated there to scrap this whole season completely, but in the end we decided to these. These shows as we originally planned. I hope you still find tips in this episode that will help you during the scary time, and I hope that after this crisis ends which it
they had back into the world armed with new ideas, tell you increase your happiness in the meantime, stay safe and stay happy. At this moment, shells forces working with businesses all over the world to adapt to all the changes that are happening there. Helping people like me and me in me, managed, through this crisis, returned to work safely agro. My business again visit work dot com to get help for your business. If we all work together, we can do this. For starters, I was the last thing I particularly wanted to do like many of them kids back in nineteen? Seventy Richard Ratner wasn't all that x. In about going to war has been married and when I found out but I was going to Vietnam, we wish
to figure out any way to get out of it, you know which involve Oh, I don't know you talking to military and see whether a sign that could be changed. None of it were they are, they were well prepared for people who didn't want to go. The army didn't want here, Richards excuses as a newly qualified doktor. He had The skills of the military desperately needed It was one of many american men who are plucked from their civilian lives and forced into the arm services. Grammar why? There was even it alibis lottery draw were young were selected for military service industry in Vietnam, based on their birthday party, zero Euro to Richard was that enough to delay has service until after his medical training, but arrived in Saigon as a twenty something new doktor was still a shock to the system. We are This is where they have is. So this
steel mesh covering the windows but I'm absolutely sure that any minute someone is toss a bomb at us but Richard wasn't. A train. Surgeon heading Vietnam to take care of bullet once he was a site high interest, but he still can be treating depression or even PTSD Richard. Was about to use his training to wage war against bad habits, the kind of behaviour we really want to change, but somehow can't Richard would soon learn. But our habit still always work the way we think his foot. Things. Not only shock scientists, but also change, the way that researchers think about the science of behavior change. Even decades later and his We provide some important hints brow we can, when our own personal battles with the bad habits that her our happiness, our minds, are constantly telling us what to do to be happy. But one of our minds are wrong. What a farmer are lying to us, leading us away from what will really make us happy. The Good news,
is the understanding. The science of the mind complaint us all back in the right direction. You're listening the happiness lab with doktor lorries. You gotta have those shoes shined you gotta show up at formation. You know you have to Your bed made Richard soldiers were trapped, in Vietnam, far away from home somewhere facing life or death situations on the battlefield, but according to Richard, the biggest enemy many soldiers faced was back in the barracks. It was boredom away from combat soldiers spent their days doing repetitive, tasks that they didn't enjoy shining boots. Dealing with annoying superior officers and generally not having anything fun. To do That's why many of them wound up turning to a particularly bad habit, but the army really didn't approve of people were just from your high and yet not necessarily that different from if you come home,
my hard day at the steel mill and you're going to the bar and have a few drinks. It's not totally, unlike them yeah, but did the inner. What was available wasn't a few dregs lilies for the soldiers who were at twenty one. What was available was like increase we hard core heroin. Exactly the first phase, was where soldiers, or smoking marijuana your smoking weed. It's not gonna. Take too long for a wife down to where the first sergeants who she was and he come up looking for you, conveniently enough soldiers had access to a less smelly drug option with the golden try a massive area of poppy production just across the border. There is were ready and willing to sell an alternative drug to. U S, troops Heroin, could do it under the nose of other commanding officers, and it was a great deal, we're potent as one g I attic told the New York Times the gang was everywhere. Estimates vary, but it's just
We thought that around twenty percent of lowering soldiers used heroin that times called the addiction rates, an epidemic with hundreds of Thousands of american troops stationed Oliver. Vietnam the government was worried that g eyes would return to their families as desperate junkies. This notion we had a whole army full of drug crazed. Who we're gonna be unleashed on these communities truly had people frightened the army announced that anybody who was dependent on heroin could report to the embassy center. They would not be arrested or charge with criminal activities, they could come, they could detox and then go. Yeah no harm! No foul the american public demanded action and so on a better plan. The army opted to force the G eyes to go cold turkey when they came into the beach or whatever we did not take them off.
Heroin. I really had no idea- and I was so frantically trying to get information on. How does one properly data somebody, but what richer had even less of an idea about was how he was going to help soldiers stay clean once they got home, I mean, heroin isn't just any old bad habit. It's an incredibly addictive substance. By making your soldiers go call Turkey Richard could help him. And get through the withdrawal phase that first step to breaking the physical part of their addiction, but the book your challenge was helping them avoid the behavioral parts of their addiction that bit of turning to heroin in order to feel better whenever were feeling depressed or board or stressed the almost matic urge to reduce their craving with a quick hit simply hoping that these men would have the willpower to avoid heroin, wasn't going to be enough, Here. We have these guys who were eighteen, ninety and when a little too much pressure is put on them.
They pop at the time Richard was worried that there was no way to avert this wave of addiction. Sure them detox at his centre. But no one seemed to know what to do to help them and overcome their awful habit so that they can become healthier and happier Now, I'm guessing most people listening to this podcast won't ever face a behavioral challenge as hard as kicking heroin, but like this, soldiers. All of us have bad habits that detract from our health and happiness. You don't need to in opium drug user to understand that it can be difficult to change, are not so good ways and the Science but the everyday habits that plague us can sometimes we just as hard to overcome as the addictive kind. The problem is that the path to happen this requires changing a lot of these habitual bad bakers. We need to stop griping, we need to down our phones and we need to craving material possessions, but how do we do that? If you're like me,
probably feels like changing these repeated behaviors is really really challenging But what are lying minds don't realize is that we have a plan, or mental tool that really cool help us achieve lasting behavioral change with ease, Only we understood how that tool worked. I wanted to learn more about why our intuitions about behavior change were so bad, and I knew The person to ask my name Wendy word. I am professor of College and business here at the University of Southern California Wendy is the there a new book, good habits, bad habits, science of making positive changes that stick most of us very good. At their standing. What we need to do better to be healthier, to be more financially stable, to have had your families must have know what those things are. The problem according to Wendy, is it most of us mistakenly think that changing our behavior
requires willpower and hard work. I think that we admire willpower, and we view it as a very positive attribute, the way that the Puritans thought would go to. Heaven is through self denial and show that they were strong enough to resist temptations. But there is a problem with willpower is next to godliness notion. And that is that willpower doesnt really work when you exert while power and control your behave, What you're doing is you are thinking about the thing that you don't want to do. And in doing so, you give it energy to keep re, emerging, so sort of a self of a self defeating aspect to willpower, That gets in our way, so will power doesn't work. What can we actually? due to successfully team are bad habits. The answer is that we need
he working, smarter, not harder. When you observe people when they are being effective at control pulling their behaviour and doing the right thing say: eating helpful a saving money for the future. What they're doing Is there not exerting willpower what people do as they say up the situations around them to make it easy to repeat the desired behaviour and they repeated over and over So that it becomes automatic, we don't, we is how much of that we really could harm us if we just know how it works, when we get back from the break, will do just that
we'll take a deep dive into how habits work and how you can harness them to behave in ways that promote your health and your happiness. The happiness lab we'll be right back. We all shop online alas, but did you know you can make your online shopping better? You can with honey Honey is the free online shopping, twelve If you money online, my shopping body and professor colleague burial, introduce me to honey about a year ago, and I've been using it ever since honey automatically finds the best promo code and applies them direct, to your heart, wherever you're shopping and that makes online shopping, finally feel as easy as it supposed to honey. Constantly surprised me with how good it is finding great deals. Honey has achieved its over seventy million members over two billion dollars, not using
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Mine psychologist in behavior change. Expert Wendy would was that engaging in routine is the secret to changing our bad behaviors. I ask myself how to do it. I don't need to do that. I've done it so often in the past. I dont ask myself whether I want coffee. Am I really tired this morning? Do I need coffee? I dont ask those questions. I just do it and then, in the end, I get the reward of repeating what I ve done in the past, which is that great cup of coffee, and that's how people who are really successful at meeting their goal, that's how they do at work these morning, coffee making illustrates a willpower free strategy that none of can use to change our behaviour for the better. It's called habit. Formation habits are just the behaviors. We reply it until they become sort of mental shortcuts, their short cuts about what You can do that's like leaving
actually the same reward as you got in the past habits conform for any repeated behaviour that gets us around Lord, whether not reward is ultimately good for us, like an ice cover. Coffee in the morning or bad for us like a shot of heroin. But Wendy's work has shown the good habits in bad habits work exactly the same way: a very particular structure. One involves three critical parts: the first critical part of habit formation is reward the words here. I just behaviors that major goals, behaviors that make you feel good, Behaviors that achieve some outcome that you're looking for from morning Wendy that reward was having the positive taste of a nice cup of coffee, but haven't formation, can involve lots of other kinds of rewards to the endorphins that kick in after it. Exercise session. The router
two boredom. We feel after we do a quick social media check or the satisfaction you get learning something new from your favorite podcast, anything that feels nice or meets a goal. Can, Professor award at least to a new habit, That's not only require a rewarded, yet a also have a second critical component, the that a routine it is the specific sequence of actions that gets us to a reward for went caffeine habit. That might be each step she takes to make her morning coffee, if you're a yield, a lover like me, you routine my advice. Grabbing your Matt and driving to your favorite studio, the site, shows that having specific routine is critical to habit formation in part because our minds care about them walk. In fact. When your brain experiences, something wonderful, it drops everything to remember the exam. Sequence and whenever you just did to get that reward and when it these down a new memory of that sequence.
Definitely doesn't want to do anything up, and so it does Just remember what you did as a bunch of individual action steps. Instead, its doors, your whole see whence of behaviors as a single, solitary routine. What reason just call chunky it even uses it. Italy, different neural system, to do so when you'd repeating a task, the two have practised many times in the ass, you are relying on something called the answering motor system, which involves the prepay. Despite the basic Anglia, and when you start. A new task, in contrast, much more of the frontal lobes, because those are the active thinking, parts of your brain and these two things are definitely active, but they also function somewhat independently and that's why habits such fantastic mental shortcuts, because we don't need our conscious
thinking frontal lobes to remember each individual action whenever we want a reward the unconscious of our brain can just hit go and our minds the entire perfectly stored routine for free driving is the product a cap, it's something we have to think about when we first learn to do tat, but then over it I'm that thought becomes less and less necessary and we start just listen: funding automatically based on what we did in the past and that achieves the goal of getting us somewhere, we want to go and it does so gently and quickly, most of the time unless you live in ally and then there's nothing efficient about driving. I wouldn't focusing on this lack of awareness for a second, because it's real weird when you think about it. I mean driving routine, involves tracking watts of complicated stuff from where you're right foot is to health
your car is going to whether there are duh streams about to cross the street, where other cars are moving too, when a traffic might change when you need to click. Your turn signal into whether you have your radioset to your favorite podcast It's amazing that we can juggle all that information at all, let alone we can do so easily and unconsciously, but that is the mazes psychological power of habits once before menu habit. We get to in all kinds of complicated behaviors without a moment's thought and that habits are so much more effective than willpower for changing our behaviors. Once we make The things we want to do habitual didn't require any more work. The problem now is that not all Our unconscious habitual behaviors are good for us, so sitting on the couch. When you get home at night and eating potato chips, That's just as much of a habit as
going home and then just hanging out to the term one looks habitual and structured to us. And the other might looks a bit lazier, but they're both habits in the same way, Sadly, those lazy or not so good for US routines are just as automatic as our positive habits, which means that our bad habit The ones inhibit our happiness I really really hard to shed. We might want to but those habits off, but we can't because our minds are on autopilot when does work shows that we do have some control over when our habit routines get turned on. Whether our minds unconsciously decide to execute that soon, the couch in munch behaviour or the throne or Jim close one. The answer comes from a third critical part of her habit lips the context, the kind next as any part of our situation or environment, that cues our behaviour for, went his car habit the context, the location being in her kitchen.
The time of day it was morning and depressing an event. She just woken up four Richards Heroin X, the contacts may be their barracks. Pour the sight of other GS using drugs or just being in Vietnam. In our research, we found that contacts can be pretty much. Everything around here. That's not you! It can be the people, the chair, where there were certain people who trigger certain behaviors that done with them in the past, and you may have friends that you typically go and have a drink with, If you see them again, that's what tends to come to mind the moods, wherein can also be triggers. So I think that one of the most common triggers for checking your cell phone is being board even If you're in a meeting- and it's quite rude even find yourself checking
You find you don't want to be rude, but the idea your phone just comes to mind when you're bored, when our brains it is a context, that's associated with a habit when that goes with particular routine in a certain kind of reward, we get incredibly strong urge to execute the habitual your behavior, even if it's a behavior no longer useful or relevant. In fact, Wendy's work has shown that cues can illicit habitual behaviour. Even when the rewards from those behaviors aren't. Even there anymore, you tested this, in a clever study involving movie trailer screenings, one group of subjects the movie trailers on a computer and Wendy's lab just like a typical study, but a second group of subjects. Got to watch the trailers inside a move, Wendy interested in whether the movie theater cues, spurred on a habitual movie, going behaviour popcorn eating but she also wanted to know whether her subjects would engage in that habitual behaviour.
Even when it was no longer reward to do that. Victory, the deliciousness of popcorn she offered some people got popcorn was stale and it was really steel, sir, it had been sitting in our lab for weak, a plastic bag. It was pretty grouse, others got popcorn. That was fresh that had just been popped Very few people who watch the film in the lab eight, the gross popcorn. They didn't have any queues. Wish them to engage in otherwise yucky behavior. But what happened to the subjects who experienced all the normal queues of being inside a cinema Well, it depended on how they normally acted. When watching movies people who had habits to eat, popcorn in the movie Cinema eight about the same amount of stale popcorn corners fresh. They could tell us We asked them if they hated the stale popcorn. They ate it anyway. People who didn't have habits deep.
Climb in the movie cinema. They did just what should expect, but rationally, we think We would all do which is it the fresh popcorn, but if they got away of stale, justly that when our bread, is he a that's, been associated with the habitual behaviour. We can't help execute that behaviour. Even when the behaviour is no longer rewarding. But despite the power of these cues Wendy has found that we don't I realise how much contacts affects our behaviour and tat means often forget the weak don't count on our habitual routines once the queues go away. Wendy has seen the negative effects of removing our habitual cues first hand. I bought a new car a few years ago, it has all kinds of wonderful safety sensors, so it beeps when I get close to an obstacle- and I hated that at first it really irritated me cuz. I wasn't used to it, but I started responding to those signals automatically overtime.
Just stop noticing them. When the car people just automatically respond to her and I didn't realize how automatic that had become how much of my driving happen that it become until I rented a car and it didn't have that warning sensors. And the first thing I did as I backed into a brick wall, the happiness lab we'll be right back finding the perfect present for data especially if you don't have the luxury of celebrating fathers day together in person. I know first here that a virtual fathers day. Brunch is nice, but it's not the same as that person, data and that's why I'm Turning to give my father a meaningful get this year, one Let us connect even more story were story.
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as lead number stores, so check them out there or by visiting W W W. Does sleep number dot com? Slash cadence, I am Vietnam veteran Marine Merrick and the next morning I back in nineteen. Seventy one, a documentary called gee. I junkie a group of returning soldiers going through rehab. I don't need no pills, no more when ITALY, my money, I come there I know what I want. The money will go to. The film argued that nearly forty thousand harden junkies, we're about to return to american soil and would soon become a major problem but in reality no such army of drug addicts actually existed the kind of surprising He is that I think, once you know, once these soldiers got on the planet go back home
you? They were good, their cravings didn t again they weren't trying to find the stuff once they got back exactly exactly right. And no one. I don't think anyone could have predicted that psychiatrist Richard Ratner had been sent to Vietnam to defuse what one newspaper called a time bomb and that's what me Richard soldiers outcomes, all the more surprising. A team of research, just followed addicted Vietnam. That's after they came home the site. His interviewed the man about their recent opiate habits and even conducted drug tests using urine samples and what they found pretty much stunned. Everyone include Richard. Only a very tiny percentage of soldiers continued their drug use after they got home. More than ninety percent of soldiers state clean compared to typical heroin user Vietnam, that seems to have little trouble. Kicking the habit study was so shocking that at first researchers, and even believe it. But slowly behavioral scientists like Richard, were able to figure out the soldier secret they
able to use their context. You accuse to break their bad habit from lay the majority of users would basically a kind of detox on their own. They would self detox. While I use this crouched help them get through military life over there, They understood that the home environment is very different from this environment, Richard Wright, is that a few hours on an airline in a change back into civic close was enough to break soldiers habit routine. They weren't border stressed anymore and they were hanging out with their drug taking buddies. They also. Have easy access to cheap heroin near every single one of their habit. Cues was different motion. These guys. They got home and they kind of reintegrated into their previous lives, richer. Catherine Success and kicking heroin has now become a classic example, Science of behavior change because of a simple context, switch
can be powerful enough to help someone overcome heroin addiction. Imagine how powerful it can be for changing, simpler behaviors like the ones many of us want to change, They did some research where we beeped people once an hour to figure out what they were thinking feeling doing, and what we found is that about forty three percent of the time people are doing They did yesterday and the day before in the same context and they're doing it without thinking much about her the ideal it nearly half of our waking days on autopilot their work, constantly governed by queues in context, is pretty shocking, but if that's true then it gives us a powerful opportunity to change some of our daily behaviors. If we can, you our conscious minds to exert some control over the contacts we find ourselves in there. We can shift
bad behaviors to the ones we want to adopt. Our environments can do the same thing for us and push ass to help us meet our goals and making it hard for ass, to stray from the good behaviors that we're trying to practice. This is something you can do right now, whether home or your workplace. Think of it as well shhh for habits but within it, your scientific basis make Small changes in your environment that provide the you need to promote good behaviors. Wendy's Research has shown that simple changes like these work time and again in one steady people had a bowl of apple slices and a ball of hot buttered popcorn when the apple slices were right in front of them, and the pup corn was arms, reach people eight as third lass calories than when the popcorn was right in front of
And the apple slices were a rich man, we're talking a minimum distance that makes. Let all sands to our conscious thinking sounds but to our habits. Our automatic reacting sounds that's a big difference. We don't realize how much of a difference proximity makes to our behavior, but context doesn't just effect what we reach far when we're hungry. There are lots of simple, ways we can use the queues around us to disrupt the auto pilot behaviors. We dont want to engage in there, forces and our environments that makes some actions more difficult and other actions easier and those rules listing, forces can be termed friction it just becomes to differ, The same sort of friction help Vietnam bets avoid drug use when they return home. Many had were taken heroin before going to war, so they actually have to find a dealer.
And the heroin available in the states was a far lower equality, which meant that, Measures would have to inject it rather than snore or smoke it. The price was also far far higher. And the G8 mood has shifted completely. Those feeling of boredom that drove them to use opiates. Those were replaced, by the excitement of being home and just the pace of normal life. Each and every one of the key issues that prompted the heroin routine was gone, and this a super important because these contextual change, were more powerful than any of the detox ideas. The army came up with the new king, this meant that soldiers just didn't think about the reward of a quick heroin head because entire habit, genes or disrupted, but frictions cannot. So be introduced to tackle the problems associated with legal drugs in them.
Over the last century. We all learn that smoking is bad for us about half of America smoked at that point, but smoking still didn't go down. Smoking rates continued reasonably high, until the. U S decided to put friction on smoking by taxing cigarettes, so you can't afford them as easily banning smoking in public places and by making it difficult to purchase cigarettes so that you actually ask somebody- and all of those things combined put enough friction on smoking so that the looking rates in the. U S are now down to a level of only fifteen percent of us smoke and that's because of friction even if you don't smoke or use illegal drugs, there's a lesson here for you. Think about the things you want to change your life, the bad habits you want to stop or the good habits you want to adopt. We
use the conscious part of our brain to increase? Friction too. Hibbert our bad happens in Britain the barriers that prevent us from doing the good ones are there social media acts that drive you nuts, but you can't help checking whenever you pick up your phone well delete them. Do you want to call? Your mom were often will then choose a photo of her as your screen saver don't wanna by certain items in the store plan. Your shopping trip to we the candy I'll or maybe one Try some of the new habits, though we ve talked about in the season. Like expiring, more gratitude. Then down what gratitude and sticky front in centre on your phone or maybe to make better use of your time then put that time when followed somewhere, you can see it easily in all These examples you can hack the queues around you to help promote the kinds of behaviors that you want in your life when had to go through this exact same conscious process when her daily fitness, it took a nosedive thanks to motherhood,
rather than powering through, are giving up analyze, where her growing family was adding a bit of friction. Her work up plans ever time. I decided to a clock three o clock, four o clock. Maybe six o clock tonight I'll exercise. Something always comes up when you have little children so I decided I would have to start exercising early in the morning, although it was really dreadful thing to start doing. Once you get used to it, it actually This very efficient, so at six, a M Wendy would be ready to exercise, but what exercise Wendy realise that had to be something with as few frictions as possible. I didn't have much time to drive to a gem or do any fancy work out thing I couldn't go to a class. I just didn't: have that level of control over my time? So it had to be something that was very efficient and easy for me to do, and putting here, She's on em and going out the door is probably the most friction was cut.
The exercise that you can imagine. I actually is to sleep in my running cause. I hate to admit this, but that was another thing that reduce the faction. Talking with Wendy has really inspired me to think about high use my conscious brain to hack the auto pilot of all my bad habits. I'm already planning strategies I can use to increase or reduce friction so I'll be well to reach my own being goals literally without thinking hope you got some insight into how you can hack your own habits hope you be willing to form a new happier happen in Senegal, You're context used to remind you to come back for the next episode of the happiness lab with me. Doctor lorries. Phantoms the happiness lab is current introduced by Ryan Daily,
our original music was composed by Zachary Silver, with additional scoring mixing in mastering by Evan Viola, PETE, not and also help introduction. Joseph Redman check our thanks and our editing was done by Sophie Crane Mckibben special thanks to meal of l, Curly Meekly Ory Heather Fain Julia Barton, Maggie Taylor, Maya caning Jacob Weisberger in my agent friendliness, the happiness lab is brought to buy Pushkin industries and me doctor lorry centres.
Transcript generated on 2020-06-15.