I'd like some statistics on the science of behavior change for an upcoming presentation, from as reputable places as possible. For example - how does writing down a habit or goal improve adherence? What impact does having an accountability buddy have? How many days does it take to build a habit? How does tracking a new intention for 30 days affect behavior change and support learning from attending a workshop? What about just being reminded about a new intention or habit even if you're not taking action yet? Thank you in advance!
Hello! Thank you for your question about statistics regarding the science of behavioral change. The short answer is that it takes most people 66 days to change a habit, writing down goals increases completion rates by 42%, having an accountability person increases success by 70%, being reminded of a new habit engenders 12% more completed goals than no reminders, and tracking new habits or support from workshops advances behavioral change (36% individually, 62% in a group), but is most effective over a long period like 12 months. Please see below for a deep dive of this research.
Psychology and technology scientific studies were used to understand the research that has been done and is ongoing in this field. Wherever possible, only peer-reviewed articles were used to ensure that the most accurate data was reported in this research brief. As is the case in science, older studies are the backbone for research today, so unless a refutation or more complete research has been published since, older articles were used when recent research cited their statistics.
Though it is commonly cited that habits take 21 days to form, this is an urban myth. Studies show instead that for habits to become automatic behaviors, it takes most people 66 days, though a range of 18-254 days was observed in the study, depending upon the person and the action.
SETTING AND COMMUNICATING GOALS
The idea behind setting goals is that "proactive actions increase sense of agency" in the person, which in turn "has fundamental impacts on increasing... motivation, self regulation, self efficacy and achievement." In a literature review of scientific studies regarding the setting of goals, it was found that in 90% of these research papers "specific and challenging goals led to higher performance than easy goals, 'do your best' goals, or no goals."
When these objectives are written down, the completion success rates become more tangible. One study found that people who regularly wrote out their goals were 42% more likely to accomplish them. Success is also found when one tells a friend or an 'accountability buddy' about their goals. Those who report weekly to another saw a goal completion rate of 70% as compared to 35% of those who told no one. This study also showed that those who wrote down "action statements" as well as the overall goal had better success than those who merely thought about it (64% vs 43%).
TRACKING AND REMINDERS
While most of the information regarding behavioral change support workshops relates to health causes and drug addictions, the wide-spread use of fitness trackers has elucidated some interesting notes on behavior tracking. When a behavior is tracked, though charts, an app, or fitness band, 36% of people reported goal attainment. Interestingly, those who combined the tracker with group support (i.e. others who were using the tracker in their workplace or social circle) saw achievement levels of 62%. However, it has also been noted that tracking behaviors is most effective over a longer stretch of time to attain significant changes (e.g. 12 months).
Being reminded of goals with or without the person's current action "encodes" the idea in the individual's memory. Then, when a reminder comes again, people are 12% more likely to take the opportunity to pursue the goal or habit than those whose minds have not been programmed to be receptive to taking action.
Behavior change can be encouraged by writing and communicating goals, having a reminder of intentions in place, and by tracking behavior (especially with a support group). Habits take 66 days usually to form, and tracking habits should ideally occur over a long period such as a year.
On a personal note, as a biomedical engineering graduate student, I am going to take some of this research to heart. Best of luck with your presentation!
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