The Power of Habits

Research has found that we make thousands of decisions in a day (Sahakian & Labuzeta, 2013). How is that even possible? It's not possible, because our brain will overload & shut down. However the brain has a secret weapon - it's called habits. Up to 40% of decisions made by the brain are using habits (Verplanken & Wood, 2006), which greatly reduces the amount of active processing power the brain requires.

How Do Habits Work?

Habits work in loops. So each habit loop starts with a trigger/event. The brain then decides if this requires active thinking or recalling a habit that is stored. Once decided, an action is executed and the brain waits for feedback. If the feedback is good (reward)- it reinforces the habit, if the feedback is bad (pain/negativity), it starts to diminish the habit in the brain. In gamification, game designers use game mechanics that apply habit loops to reinforce the type of behaviours they want to see. If designed properly, gamification can help to enhance positive and constructive behaviours.

Now that we know how habits work, the next question is, what type of decisions and actions are hard coded into habits by our brain? Most of us have this idea that habits are for actions like which hand we use to hold our toothbrush or which route we take to work. We think that habits are formed for the mundane and low level decisions or actions. However, habits are formed based on which decisions or actions that is the most frequently used. The more times we repeat a decision/action, the more likely it will form habits. As such, for a sales professional, the habits that will form are; pitching to clients, handling objections, making cold calls, etc.  This means habits often take over the core functions of a person’s job.

Habits In Business Context

Here's the all important question. Why does a lot of business growth or culture change fail in organisations? It’s because habits overpower any external effort to change the default mode of habits – often known as comfort zones. As such, unless we focus on the behavioural components of habits, any transformation programme will yield little results. 

Why does training/e-learning sessions have a high failure rate of retention and sustainability in the workplace? The main reason is habits overpower any attempt by the person to apply new learning in the workplace. Participants need a space where they can unlearn, relearn and then apply the learnings while building new habits – all done before they go back to the workplace.

So then, what do we do? Habits are very hard to break, so we create new habits instead. By using gamified simulations, habit building models, and iterative techniques - we allow people to practice and rapidly develop the target behaviours and habits.

How effective is gamification in the context of learning? With one of our Fortune 500 client, their finance team reported a sales increase of 266% across the board for 300 staff that attended or sales simulations. The way we did it was by building the right habits so that when an event or trigger happens in the workplace, the brain will access the new habits as opposed to the old habits.

So if you are looking for business or behavioural results, make gamification your top consideration when implementing a solution.