New life, old habits? How changing circumstances affect your habits.

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Whether it’s drinking our morning coffee, cycling to work, grabbing our favorite brand of detergent in the supermarket or brushing our teeth in the evening – most of what we do daily is guided by what we call “habits”. Psychologists use the term to describe behaviours that occur repeatedly and require minimum cognitive effort since they have already been automatized. Habits make our lives easier as they allow us to perform actions without much deliberation and therefore free up our cognitive capacities for far more important matters. However, research has shown that habits – even when usually hard to change – are formed mostly in relatively stable situations and are therefore put to the test when major changes occur in life. Are you worried a new job, location or relationship might make you lose the habits you worked so hard to form? Read on to discover why this might happen and how you can use it to your advantage.

How changing circumstances affect your habits

When there are changes in our daily routine – or in our so-called situational context, as psychologists call it – it’s often the case that we lose our habits and our behaviour becomes more conscious and intentional again. What used to be done without really thinking about it, now requires cognitive efforts and planning. The good news about this is that a change in your situational context can also be the best opportunity to finally get rid of bad habits. Studies have shown that people who wanted to make a change were more likely to succeed when the new behaviour started in a new situational context e.g. after moving to a new city. However, new situations also affect old habits, especially when you can no longer stick to them as you used to before. For example it might be that new working hours in your new job or a lack of places to train nearby make it impossible to continue your routine as you used to.

Influencing factors: Perception of change and intention

A study conducted amongst American college students who changed their university showed that the frequency of training in their new situational context was dependent on two factors: the strength of their intention to train and their perception of how much their situation had changed. Only those students who had a strong intention to train and did not perceive proceeding to a new university as a big change were able to keep their habits as they were. For all those students who either had a rather weak intention to train or perceived the new situation as a major change, the former habitual behaviours could no longer be performed automatically and it cost them way more effort to create a training routine in the new city.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way

While a new start can help you to create new habits, those who just want to keep up a good habit in a new situational context might find it a little tricky to start off with. Luckily, for us as Free Athletes, new circumstances are just another challenge for our willpower. In order to keep up your training routine when your life changes, we recommend you to actively plan your training times, places and sessions. Need more support in transferring your training routine to your new life? While science suggests to use implementation intentions, we’ve also put together some inspiration on how to keep up and create a training routine in a new environment. Good luck for your fresh start and always remember: #NoExcuses