Want to start a good habit? Try moving house, say scientists
Published 27/01/2016 | 00:36
Starting a new habit during a major life change such as moving house or changing jobs is more likely to be successful, researchers say.
Experts claim that such transitions can provide a "window of opportunity", during which habits can be shifted.
This is because people are generally more open to new ideas and information at this time, the University of Bath study found.
But within three months, habits become entrenched and are far harder to change.
In the study, published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, behaviour change experts studied 800 adults in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire.
Professor Bas Verplanken, from the University of Bath's Department of Psychology, said: "Life transitions, such as moving house or changing jobs, present a real opportunity to influence the choices people make.
"Often, around the time of a major change, life can be up in the air and as such we know that people are generally more open to new ideas and information."
Participants in the study either received an intervention promoting sustainable behaviours such as recycling, reducing food waste and energy use, or did not.
Half of those involved had moved house within the past six months, while the other half had not.
The groups of movers and non-movers were matched on house size, home ownership, recycling facilities and access to public transport.
They were offered a free reusable shopping bag containing sustainable products such as eco-washing liquid, vegetable and flower seeds, a bus timetable and a shower timer.
An information booklet referring to websites on how to live sustainably - emphasising both environmental and financial benefits - was sent in the post.
Participants also received a newsletter from Peterborough Environment City Trust providing information on sustainable solutions.
They were asked to report how often they performed 25 environment-related behaviours at the beginning of the study and eight weeks later.
The study found the intervention was more effective among participants who had recently moved house.
Researchers suggest the findings could now be used by policy-makers hoping to design more cost-effective interventions to promote sustainable behaviour.
One example they highlight is among first time buyers as their life transition will occur much earlier - meaning any shift in environmental thinking is more likely to have long-lasting effects.
Prof Verplanken added: "Timing environmental interventions to coincide, whilst also reinforcing messages about saving money through such changes, can be particularly effective.
"However we now know the window for this is limited - probably to a maximum of three months. After that point habits begin to get entrenched and become much harder to break.
"The key, therefore, is to find these opportunities if we're to help people make positive shifts that improve the environment and can save them money for the long-term.
"For policy-makers looking at returns on investment, the clear message is that targeted investments at this times stand more chance of success than blanket campaigns sent to everyone."
The study tested the so-called " habit discontinuity hypothesis", suggesting that behaviour change interventions are more effective when delivered in the context of life course changes.