Lecture: Habits or habitual behaviors: Narrator: Listen to part of a lecture in a psychology class. Professor: Every morning when I wake up, I wash my face, brush my teeth and get dressed. Those are habits. I do them pretty much every morning without exception, pretty much in that same order. Now habits are an important part of our lives. Stop for a second, and think how complicated our lives would be if, well, if we didn't have habits. If everyone had to consciously think about every single step for everything that we do everyday. Even things that we do as part of our routines. Okay, so what exactly is a habit? In behavioral psychology, habits or habitual behaviors, are defined as automated responses triggered by context cues. Let me repeat that. Habits are automated responses triggered by context cues. So what does that mean? An automated response is something that you do without thinking about it. Context cues are the condition or situation that causes the response. For example, every morning on my way to work, I stop and eat breakfast at a certain coffee shop. I don't think about it, I, I just do it. When I approach the corner where the coffee shop is, I automatically slow down, and stop my car, park, and go into the coffee shop. So the automated response is my stopping at the coffee shop. And the context cue in, well in this case the situation that causes the response, is the location. Or more precisely, my being at the location. A context cue doesn't have to be an external situation. It can also be an action I do that comes immediately before another action of mine. Well, like when I sit down at the dinner table. The first thing I do after I sit down is put my napkin on my lap. I do one thing and then that action is followed by another specific action. Sitting down is the context cue, putting my napkin on my lap is the automated response. Someone once said, "habitual behaviors make everyday life easier" because the automated responses free up our mental resources for other things. For example, when you're driving or riding your bike to school, you're using automated responses learned through repetition. That's why you're able at the same time, to think about the presentation in your history class later that day. But there's a downside to this automatic behavior. Because habits are automatic, they're hard to change. You can't just decide to get rid of that habit and it's gone. There's a big difference between intentions and behaviors, between changing your mind about doing something and actually changing what you do. Especially when it's a habit. Habits keep us doing what we've always done, even if it is our intentions to act otherwise. So a really good way to change a habit, is to change the context in which the habit occurs. In other words, get rid of the context cues. Uh, let's go back to my habit of always stopping at this coffee shop. Let's say one day I decide I'd like to save money by not eating breakfast there. I changed my intentions, but as I've said, that alone may not be enough. So what I can do is change the context. And a good way for me to change the context would be to take a different route to work, right? Context is incredibly powerful. In fact, just changing the context itself can cause a change in the automated response. Researchers studying in the mechanisms of habits, looked at the exercise habits of college students who transferred to a new university. The question was, did students who had a habit of doing physical daily exercise maintain this habit when they changed schools? At first you might wonder why that would matter. What does being at a new university have to do with exercising? Well, you'd be surprised. What the study found was that some of the student's who'd exercised regularly at their old university, stopped doing so when they transferred. Apparently the habit was no longer queued automatically in the new environment. So changing the context, caused these students to lose the habit. Even if exercise was a strong habit before. And the researchers found that the students who maintained the habit, were the ones who had the conscious intention to keep exercising in the new environment. For those students, their intentions to continue their habits, counteracted the change in context. So as you can see, intentions can be a powerful force. And if you want to change a habit, both change in context and strong intentions are important.