The easiest way to break a bad habit

The easiest way to break a bad habit

In 1971, a US Congress delegation to visit troops in Vietnam made a shocking discovery.

After 16 years of war, as much as 20% of their soldiers were heroin addicts.

Fearing that they would encourage a wider epidemic, the US government put in place a system to track and rehabilitate them on their return.  

One of the researchers leading the programme noticed something unusual which went against the understanding of addiction at the time.

When they arrived home, only 5% of the former soldiers became re-addicted within a year.

How did this happen?

It was all to do with their environment.

In the jungle, there were many ‘triggers’ for their addiction. Heroin was cheap, readily available and it helped to relieve the psychological horrors of war.

Back home, those same conditions weren’t met and so many eventually stopped using the drug.

This study revealed a lot about habit formation and the significant role our environment plays. We are often blissfully unaware of how much it impacts our behaviour.

Shopping malls are designed to get us to spend more money.

Supermarkets are designed to encourage us to buy more goods.

Casinos are designed to get us to gamble more.

It’s the same within the home. You can modify your environment to encourage the formation of good habits over bad ones.

For example, if you want to eat more fruit, place a fruit bowl on the kitchen counter. Or if you want to go for a run in the morning, put your running kit beside your bed the night before.

Environment dictates behaviour so try and change yours for the better. It is far more effective than relying on will power alone.


Interested in learning more about human behaviour? You might enjoy our course on Behavioural Economics with the TED speaker and advertising superstar Rory Sutherland.

For more on habits in particular, we highly recommend the book Atomic Habits by James Clear.

The Fluency Heuristic

The Fluency Heuristic

Choose your friends wisely

Choose your friends wisely