By Dr. Anthony Policastro

People often talk about willpower. They use it when they are trying to do something positive. They use it when they are trying to avoid doing something negative.

A new study suggests that willpower is not really the issue. It is more a matter of “old habits die hard.” It appears that it is extremely hard to break an old habit long term.

The example that they used was challenging someone to use only words without the letter “l” for the next five minutes. It is hard to do but most people would manage to use less of those words than normal if they were really trying. 

However, if you made the same challenge last hours or days, the results would be different. It has nothing to do with willpower. It has to do with the habit of not having to worry about the specifics of words we use. Changing language for the long term is next to impossible.

The researchers looked at two specific areas. One had to do with coffee drinkers. When they asked people why they drink coffee in the morning, the most common answer was related to being tired. The caffeine wakes them up.

However, they then measured the caffeine that different coffees had. There was a wide range. Therefore, why would a low amount of caffeine work as well as a high amount of caffeine to wake someone up?

They measured factors associated with fatigue for a week in 100 coffee drinkers. There was no difference in the amount of coffee they drank from day to day. There was a difference in how much fatigue they had from day to day. It appears that the major reason for people drinking coffee is little more than it just being a habit.

Changing habits is more related to the environment than it is to the individual. For example, recycling increases if the recycling can is directly next to the garbage can. When it is 12 feet way, the amount of recycling goes down.

In a similar manner, cigarette sales are higher when cigarettes are located in a relatively obvious location. If they have to be asked for, the sales go down.

The moral of the story appears to be that if you want to break a bad habit make it inconvenient to continue it. If you want to start a good habit, make it more convenient to do it. It appears that convenience produces better results than willpower.

COVID update- Total number of new cases nationally has gone from 666,000 last week to 615,000 this week. That is the lowest it has been since May 9.

Sussex County totals have gone from 575 new cases two weeks ago to 419 new cases last week to 356 new cases this week. That is the lowest it has been since July 8.

Sussex County is now back to under 200 new cases per 100,000 people. New COVID admissions per 100,000 people are now under 20. Percentage of inpatient beds under 10 percent remained under 10. Those statistics move Sussex County from high risk to medium risk. That means that masks in indoor areas are no longer suggested.

We hit 60 days into the current surge on Sept. 6. If the previous pattern of 78 day surges continues the current one should end about Sept. 24.