The Role of Habit Formation and Automaticity in Diabetes Self-Management: Current Evidence and Future Applications

Curr Diab Rep. 2023 Apr;23(4):43-58. doi: 10.1007/s11892-023-01499-y. Epub 2023 Feb 7.


Purpose of review: Diabetes is a chronic condition that requires consistent self-management for optimal health outcomes. People with diabetes are prone to burnout, cognitive burden, and sub-optimal performance of self-management tasks. Interventions that focus on habit formation have the potential to increase engagement by facilitating automaticity of self-management task performance. The purpose of this review is to (1) clarify the conceptualizations of habit formation and behavioral automaticity in the context of health behavior interventions, (2) review the evidence of habit in relation to behaviors relevant to diabetes self-management, and (3) discuss opportunities for incorporating habit formation and automaticity into diabetes self-management interventions.

Recent findings: Modern habit research describes a habit as a behavior that results over time from an automatic mental process. Automatic behaviors are experienced as cue-dependent, goal-independent, unconscious, and efficient. Habit formation requires context-dependent repetition to form cue-behavior associations. Results of diabetes habit studies are mixed. Observational studies have shown positive associations between habit strength and target self-management behaviors such as taking medication and monitoring blood glucose, as well as glycemic outcomes such as HbA1c. However, intervention studies conducted in similar populations have not demonstrated a significant benefit of habit-forming interventions compared to controls, possibly due to varying techniques used to promote habit formation. Automaticity of self-management behaviors has the potential to minimize the burden associated with performance of self-management tasks and ultimately improve outcomes for people with diabetes. Future studies should focus on refining interventions focused on context-dependent repetition to promote habit formation and better measurement of habit automaticity in diabetes self-management.

Keywords: Automaticity; Diabetes; Habit formation; Habit strength; Self-management; Treatment engagement.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Diabetes Mellitus* / therapy
  • Habits
  • Health Behavior
  • Humans
  • Self-Management*