The new year is quickly approaching and people all around the world will soon start thinking of their new year resolutions. Many of us will come up with meaningful and healthy changes to make in 2020. Yet most of us will struggle to stick with our plans to live healthily, whether it concerns dieting, being more physically active or to quit smoking.
This is not due to a lack of knowledge; most of us know what is healthy and what isn’t. And if we are not certain, there is an abundance of information available at the click of a button. So why do we find it difficult to make these changes even though we understand their importance?
Think about what you have done so far today. How often were you actually thinking about what you were doing? Were you mainly doing what you’ve done before? How much was habit?
We aren’t in control of ourselves as much as we’d like to be. In fact, most of the time we are not in control at all .
We all have many habits. Some are useful and good for us, like washing our hands, brushing our teeth and putting on seat belts. Others aren’t so good, like repeatedly checking our phones, or eating unhealthy snacks while we watch tv. So how does our brain create these habits?
Habits are generally formed by repeating a behaviour until it has become more or less automatic . By repeating behaviour in a consistent context, we forge a direct link in memory between the context and response . Therefore, we learn to associate the behaviour triggered by that setting; this process is termed ‘context-dependent repetition’. This reinforces a mental context–behaviour association, such that alternative options become less accessible in memory . Eventually, the mere perception of the context automatically triggers the responding behaviour ,.
Interventions to change habits are most effective when they address the cuing of habit performance, either through inhibiting habit responses once activated or avoiding or altering exposure to the cues  . Nearly forty years of research at the University of Hertfordshire has resulted in new thinking in the area of behaviour change, led by Professor Ben (C) Fletcher, founder of FIT Science, and Professor Karen Pine, Professor of Developmental Psychology .
With this model of behaviour professor Fletcher and Pine created their Do Something Different behaviour change approach. In Preventomics, professor Fletcher and Pine collaborate with Onmi in the development of a new behaviour change programme called “Do-omics”.
Do-omics will send out personalised Do’s – or micro behaviours – designed to encourage you to step out of your comfort zone and try new behaviours. Do-omics is Onmi’s new implementation of the Do Something Different approach that uses behavioural data and omics input from the Preventomics system.
Participants will receive up to 3 Do’s per week for a duration of 3 months. The aim of the programme is to break the distal habits proposed to play a role in unhealthy dietary and exercise behaviours. This means a Do is not necessarily a food-related activity, but can also target the way you commute, shop, relax or socialise.
The Do’s stimulate you to engage in novel activities that expand your behavioural repertoire
Habits are often made up of a chain of actions and thoughts. This is important because one behaviour (or thought) automatically cues the next one in the chain. The bad habit will probably have started earlier than you think because the habit chain may be quite long. For example, you might always drive the same way home after work, you might pass the shop that triggers a thought about eating biscuits, you buy biscuits meaning to be good about when you eat them. Then you go home and turn on the tv and get a coffee. The eating of the biscuits that is likely then will have started with a habit chain going back many apparently independent decisions, such as which route to drive to get home. Do’s break the habit chains earlier than you might otherwise do.
The Do’s work because they interrupt the sequence of conditioning; they change the small lifestyle behaviours that trigger the unhealthy habit chain and try to instigate a new chain of events  . Through experimenting with new behaviours, you might be better equipped to weaken your existing habits and also encounter new experiences that could challenge current thinking .
Try this Do for yourself and notice how a small change can create new experiences:
SHIFT YOUR BUTT DAY. Today don’t sit anywhere that you would normally sit. That’s at the dinner table, at work, watching TV or in a meeting. – Triggers for unwanted behaviour often exist in the environment around us. Literally changing where we sit can mean we are not triggered to do what we normally do in that space. –
Sander van Berlo
Director at Onmi B.V. with a focus on design and business development. For the past five years he has focussed on the design and implementation of Onmi technology that interprets and helps change behaviour. He holds a master’s degree in industrial design from the University of Technology Eindhoven, the Netherlands. Contact email: sander[at]onmi.design.
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