Redefining habits and linking habits with other implicit processes

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In their commentaries on Hagger (2019), Gardner, Rebar, and Lally (2019) and Phillips (2019) provide welcome debate on the conceptualization and operation of habits in physical activity. In this response, I extend their comments by (i) calling for a redefining of habits to encompass contemporary views of habit, and (ii) suggesting that descriptions of physical activity habits should make reference to their relations with other implicit constructs that reflect automatic processes. Specifically, I contend that extant definitions of habits for complex behaviors like physical activity should move away from definitions of unitary responses to specific cues or contexts, and focus on ‘macro’ expressions of the behavior that comprise multiple sub-actions, which can each be controlled by habitual or deliberative processing. It may also be useful for definitions to make the distinction between habitual instigation and execution, affording greater precision in descriptions of the processes that generate habitual behaviors. Finally, physical activity habits as cue-action relations are unlikely to be enacted in the absence of activation of other implicit processes, consistent with behavioral schema. Recognizing this, I contend that descriptions of habit should accommodate these links, and that they may be useful in elaborating on the processes by which habits determine subsequent physical activity behavior.

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