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We're creatures of habit more than we think

Updated: Apr 15

“Let's try something new today. Let's go to that new Indian restaurant! But... wait, no. I feel fired. Let's visit our favourite place and get our regular table. But... tommorow! We will do something new.”

– Is that you? Keep reading.

This article is inspired by The Choice Factory. A book written by Richard Shotton about cognitive biases in marketing and everyday life. Read another article from this series.


You’re about to do some nice shopping. New shoes, new shirt, new stuff, new life. You need this. You enter a local shopping mall and search for your favorite shop. It’s on the first floor. Brilliant. You head towards the escalator. But wait. It’s not moving! Broken. Out of order. Done.

No worries. You can climb it up like the regular stairs. You put your right foot on the first stair and then you…

A. Run away screaming

B. Climb it up like stairs

C. Get real dizzy   

Not sure about the correct answer? Wait till the end. Now it's research time.

Broken escalator phenomenon

Broken escalator phenomenon was discovered by Raymond Reymonds from Birmingham University. It teaches us that the habit within us is stronger than the perceived reality around us. 

Even though we understand that the escalator is broken. And we are aware we have to use it as stairs, we still get a little dizzy when stepping on. We are so used to that thing moving, it throws us out. That invisible power making us wobble? That’s the force of habit.

We don’t think. We do as we always did

Jeffrey Quinn and Wendy Wood from Duke University discovered that 45% of things we do every day are habits. We don’t think about them. We just do. Do you know how you got to work this morning? How long did you brush your teeth? Which socks did you pick? No. You did those things on autopilot. 

Our brain will do anything to save energy. Detecting repeating activities and doing them unconsciously is like a power saving mode. Conscious thinking is so hard and energy consuming.

We all know that one demanding day at your blue-collar work can tire you down more than a marathon. It’s not a metaphor by the way. Our brains consume 25 % of energy intake. And that’s just for regular functioning. God knows that the percentage is much higher when the deadline is approaching…

Break a leg if you want to break a habit

Unconscious things are notoriously hard to change. Start exercising. Eating healthy. Reading every day. Learning Chinese. Starting a new habit is harrrrd. And we wrongly think we’re lazy when the habit doesn’t stick. We’re not. Really.

By creating new habits we have to break the old one. That means literally rebuilding our brain paths. That’s some physiological shovel work.

Oh you don’t believe me that habits are tough? Let me tell you a story.

Gorilla in Sainsbury’s

In 2004 Sainsbury’s discovered that regular customers buy around the same 150 products in rotation. Even though the store has up to 30 thousands products to offer.

People did not pay attention to the new offers. They were like sleepwalkers. Even though they would never admit that. So creative agency AMV BBDO has decided to show them. 

One day they unleashed a man in a gorilla costume into the store. He took a basket. Shop for bananas and cleaning products. Almost nobody has noticed him. Sleepwalkers, I tell you.


Catch them when they reflect

People are more open to trying something new while they undergo a change. Everything counts. Marriage, divorce, new year, even new week. 

According to The Illusion of Choice, another of Richard Shotton’s books, the probability of people visiting the fitness center rises by 15% at the beginning of the month. And it rises by 33% at the beginning of a week.

Psychologists Adam Alter and Hal Hershfield even discovered that there is a higher probability you’ll do a significant life change if your age ends with a number 9. (29, 39, 109 … you get the idea.)

They analyzed data from 42 062 respondents. And concluded that people in their ?9’s question their life more. Thus they end up trying to make a change. Unfortunately sometimes they go about it very harshly. Psychologists analysed data from 8 million men active on a dating site for married people,

They concluded that the cheating probability rises by 18% if your age ends on a number 9.

Unfortunately we can find similar statistic among people who had committed suicide. 

On the lighter note, the probability of running your first marathon is higher by 48% if you’re in your ?9’s. There's still hope then.

So what should we do about that? 

In everyday life, I beg of you, don’t wait for a significant date to make a change. Changes take time and we have to do little things every day to make them happen. 

And in marketing? I beg of you, wait for a significant date. As we learned, people will be more open to trying something new. And if you play your cards right, that something new might be your product. 

Correct answer:

C. Get real dizzy

Source: Richard Shotton | The Choice Factory 

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