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  • Writer's pictureRachel Drapper

🏠⏳ #20 | Can hoovering become a habit?

TL;DR Executive Summary

  • Over 43% of our daily actions are ruled by habit

  • Fairshare is exploring the application of habit formation research to help people share chores

  • Four crucial ingredients make habits stick: context, repetition, rewards and consistency

  • Currently 14 beta testers are enrolled in our reminder service

  • No couple’s responses to our chore questionnaire have matched yet...

  • 400 Fairshare followers receive this newsletter


📢 Updates

  • 14 beta testers are trialling Fairshare’s latest service idea

  • We spoke to 5 more couples counsellors / therapists to learn more about the topic of roles and responsibilities at home, and relationship best practices

  • We passed the 400 mark of Fairshare followers!

  • I was thrilled to join epic dad-vocate Elliott Rae’s panel discussion on the parental mental load, alongside panellists Richard Kuti, Shivani Uberoi, and Susie Ramroop. Highlights included Shivani’s analogy of the mental load as “having multiple tabs open in your head”, and the 4 Ds strategy, to “Do, Delete, Defer, or Delegate” tasks - catch up with the conversation here


🔎 Learnings from the month

  • In her book Good Habits, Bad Habits, Wood provides a shorthand definition of a habit as “automaticity in lieu of conscious motivation”, and stresses it involves memory, action and persistence

  • Habits are pervasive and account for a huge amount of our daily activities: over 43% of actions are estimated to be ruled by habit. As much as 88% of daily hygiene tasks (e.g., showering, getting dressed) are habitual

  • Contrary to popular opinion, habits are not about willpower—quite the opposite: habits “work outside our conscious awareness” and are “benignly thoughtless”. They work better when you are not thinking

  • This resulting “effortlessness” of habits is a defining property

  • Habits are more about how you act, than what the actions are

  • Habits are not inherently good or bad (as the book title suggests), rather they are a mechanism. For instance, one could have a habit of exercising everyday versus eating cake everyday (though arguably both combined could be pretty good...)


What triggers habits?

  • Unfortunately, knowledge that one should (or should not) do something is insufficient to trigger action. Wood illustrates this with several examples, including the famous 5-A-Day fruit and veg campaign: the US campaign resulted in significantly increased awareness of the need to eat produce daily—from 8% to 39% of Americans. Yet this didn’t translate into behaviour change—consumption of five portions remained stubbornly at only 11% over a decade

  • Desire also doesn’t make habits work

  • That said, “change begins with self-awareness” and goals do orient people to form habits, so initial conscious decisions to instigate habits remain significant

What makes habits stick?

Wood identifies some key ingredients:



  • In a phenomenon called introspection illusion’, people overweight the power of their own free will and underestimate the influence of their surroundings in forming habits

  • Unlike the 5-A-Day behaviour change fail, evidence suggests altering contexts can dramatically change people's behaviour e.g., laws restricting point of sale cues for tobacco (i.e., prohibiting stores from advertising cigarettes, keeping them out of reach of customers etc.) have been shown to be highly effective in reducing smoking habits

  • As well as removing contextual cues, new improved habits can be added to existing contexts by ‘stacking’ them after current automatic behaviours, or ‘swapping’ out bad habits with better ones


  • Autopilot happens through repeating new actions

  • The million dollar question remains: How long does an action have to be repeated for it to become a habit?

  • Readers may have heard of the widely misreported 21 days required to turn an action into a habit? Unfortunately, Wood confirms this to be a myth stemming from a 1960s self-help guru, based on an extremely narrow scenario of people adjusting to their own plastic surgery—alas, a rather specific context, with little application to other habits!

  • As with most research, the answer is not as simple as we might like. Studies have provided a range of ‘magic numbers’ for different activities to become automatic e.g., eating healthily required 65 days of repetition and exercising 91 days. Unfortunately there is no single magic number, and all examples given were considerably longer than 21 days

  • As one might expect, the more complex the action, the longer a habit takes to form. Similarly intuitively, the stronger the driving forces or the contextual cues, the faster it stuck


  • Immediate, uncertain rewards, closely tied to performing specific behaviours kickstart habits and enable them to thrive. So much so that, when formed, habits can persist beyond when people value the initial reward, or when the reward is no longer available


  • Keeping habit-contexts stable is key: “You can make any behaviour more habitual as long as you do it the same way each time”, and “with stable cues, habits are protected”

  • Cues include locations, people, time of day, state of mind etc. Time of day cues were noted as especially significant e.g., in studies on exercise frequency and contraceptive pill compliance, regularity in the time of day was more significant than level of motivation, or when in the day the activity was done

So what for Fairshare?

  • Fairshare learnt, among other things, that habits are not as easy to form as one might expect (or hope!)

  • 80% of couples we surveyed previously expressed they want to share chores equally, but fewer than 20% are achieving this goal, which leaves some room for helpful habit formation to close this gap

  • Our previous beta test involved increasing awareness of partners' housework levels, but we now better understand why this knowledge didn’t lead to behaviour change

  • Our latest service therefore takes an entirely different approach: using the ingredients of habit formation to help couples form habits to share chores

    • CONTEXT: Since “in new contexts, we choose behaviours that fit our current goals”, Fairshare targets couples who recently experienced or are experiencing change e.g., moving in together, moving house, changing jobs, starting a family etc.—times of transition are ripe for new habit formation

    • REPETITION: We are focusing initially on routine, repeated chores. Our personalised reminder service nudges people to repeat the chores they express desire to do

    • REWARDS: Watch this space for how we will build rewards into our next iteration

    • CONSISTENCY: Fairshare’s personalised reminders recur at the same time of day to help give habits a chance to form


🎄💡Christmas cognitive labour tip

To spread the joy / reduce the stress of thinking up innovative, thoughtful Christmas gift ideas for loved ones, consider next year using a shared to do list app such as AnyList. Create a running gift list of ideas throughout the year, to avoid the rush this weekend


📖 What we are consuming

Thanks to the record number of Fairshare followers who sent in content this month. As ever, I read/listen to/watch it all:


🥅 Next month's goals

  1. Be present with family at Christmas, despite being excited to progress Fairshare next steps

  2. Wrap up* feedback from the past month’s beta test & prepare the next beta test

  3. Revise Fairshare’s pitch deck in preparation for fundraising in the New Year

(*pun unintended, but preserved)

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