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PCS ... boosts PHC (Permanent Habit Change)?

By Christine Cioppa  

New Year's Eve resolutions fizzle? Not to worry. Your next permanent change of station may help you make new habits stick! A new study, published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, found that a residential relocation causes such a disturbance in old habits, at least temporarily, that people are better able to change undesired behaviors.

“Changing your habits is very difficult," said Bas Verplanken, Ph.D., professor of social psychology at the University of Bath, "including finding the right moment to make a change.”

In the study, Verplanken and colleague Deborah Roy, PhD, looked at 800 study participants’ habits over two months. In this case, the 25 behaviors studied were related to the environment—water and energy use, recycling, food waste, etc.

Researchers found that people’s “minds and behaviors temporarily unfreeze,” during a move, so they are forced basically to go off autopilot, leaving room for being more receptive to change. Researchers also found that the first three months after a move is the best time for making changes stick.

But why isn’t willpower enough?

“Changing from December 31st to January 1st is not a dramatic discontinuity,” Verplanken said. “Many resolutions are made on December 31st, and go down the drain on January 2nd.”

Verplanken didn’t evaluate habits like improving study time, quitting smoking, modifying or quitting drinking alcohol, or reducing unhealthy eating patterns. But, his research does show that relocating provides opportunities for creating a healthier lifestyle.

Whatever you’d like to change, it’s worth a good hard try immediately after your PCS, just like that good hard try you give on January 1.

“Most assumption about changing habits do not take into account the key feature of habits—automaticity. Habits are automatic associations between specific contexts and responses, which are acquired through repeated rewarded responses. ‘Rewards’ can be any type of satisfaction (e.g., pleasantness, efficiency, convenience, approval).

Having strong habits makes people inattentive to new information or the availability of alternative options, and comes with reduced deliberation and decision making,” he said.

When learning new ways of doing things, Verplanken says “People may need information, and may for a while be ‘in the mood for change’ in general…. New behaviors, then, should be helpful and rewarding, in order to stick. Preferably, they should be embedded in other routines.”

So moving to a new neighborhood is the perfect time to try to change because it shakes things up and makes people have to relearn a ton of things. If you combine that with learning about how to change undesired habits, you might be able to finally create a breakthrough in those resolutions, once and for all!

Developing a PCH (permanent change of habit) within the first three months after settling into a new home can make your next PCS a rewarding one.

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