- Magda Zena
How to form a new habit: our study finds this free tool can help!
Updated: Jan 7
Forming new habits can be life changing but it is also often hard. Maybe you want to read every day, or run in the mornings, or put your phone away an hour before bed. Whatever habit you want to form, we’re here to help, with a tool that was shown to be effective by a new randomized controlled trial. Study participants (404 people) were randomized to either use our habit tool, 'Daily Ritual', or to try forming a habit on their own.
Those that used our tool stuck to their habit at a higher rate than the control group over the next 6 weeks!
What is "Daily Ritual" and how it can help you to form a new habit?
'Daily Ritual' is a free, interactive web-based program that walks you through easy-to-implement psychological techniques to help you form a new habit. You can also use it now, to begin building habits for yourself!
People who used our tool performed their habit more days each week and felt more successful at habit forming than the control group.
We’ll talk you through these results (just keep reading!). Alternatively, you can read the full study write-up here.
Our Study in a Nutshell
Participants: 404 people in the U.S., in two groups of 202.
We divided the participants into two groups. One group used our Daily Ritual tool, while the other (the control group) completed a program that looked similar but that didn't involve any of the techniques that our previous research has shown yield the best results. Instead, we just asked the control group to concretely describe the habit they wanted to form. We also asked both groups how they would measure success for their habit, and how motivated they were to perform it, among other questions.
We pre-registered our study methods and hypotheses to help reduce the possibility of bias.
Length: 8 weeks.
Data collected: Each week for eight weeks, we asked all participants how many days they performed the habit. We tracked:
The number of days per week that people:
performed their habits (called ‘practice days’)
did not perform their habits (called ‘failure days’)
performed a part but not all of their habits (called ‘incomplete days’).
The "success rate", based on whether participants reported feeling that they succeeded with their habit formation plans.
We also collected data on a variety of other exploratory factors to study whether they are predictive of successful habit formation. For example: reported level of willpower, free time, relationship status, smartphone use, and whether the habit is pleasant.
The group that used our tool reported:
More days per week practicing their habit than the control group (mean = 4.15 days vs. mean = 3.54). This difference, of an extra 0.61 days of doing their habit per week, was statistically significant (t(322) = 2.51, p < 0.013).
A smaller number of failure days than the control group (mean = 2.32 days vs. mean = 2.84 days), and this difference was statistically significant (t(322) = 2.31, p < 0.022).
A higher level of self-reported success at forming their habit than the control group (on a scale from 4 to 0: mean = 2.09 vs. mean = 1.8, respectively) and the difference was statistically significant (t(322) = 1.05, p < 0.03).
These effects lasted at least 6 weeks, though they gradually decreased across that period. This can be seen in the graph below.
We also carried out sensitivity analyses and ran a lasso regression to examine which variables were predictors of successful habit formation. This showed us a few factors that (very modestly) influenced the number of days that people practiced their habits, although the R² (i.e., variance in the outcome accounted for by the model) is low. Factors most predictive of the number of days habits were practiced:
Level of energy and motivation
Openness to experience
Emotional regulation skills
Factors most predictive of feeling successful in habit formation:
Openness to experience
Emotional regulation skills
Previously formed habits and employment also correlated positively with how people felt about their success at habit formation, while the amount of free time, amount of personal freedom, and being in a relationship correlated negatively.
People who used our Daily Ritual habit formation tool performed their desired habit more often than the control group. This result tapered off over time and was no longer statistically significant at 6 weeks. It might therefore be advisable to repeat the program after 6 weeks.
However, people who used our tool reported feeling more successful in habit formation up to the end of the 8 week study.
It is worth noting that this study required members of the control group to do much more than what people normally do with regard to habit formation; they were required to think about starting a new habit, set an intention, choose a habit, and report weekly on their progress. This may have caused members of the control group to succeed far more than they normally would have. If this is correct, then this study was a very stringent test of the Daily Ritual program. Even in these stringent conditions, we found that the program was a great way to build habits!
You can read the full text of this study here, and you can try the Daily Ritual program here.