Charles Duhigg, “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business”

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Reviewed by Femflection

Charles Duhigg is a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter for The New York Times. Duhigg takes a unique look into the human mind to explore the science behind habit making.

Some “THE POWER OF HABIT” quotes:

  • “When a habit emerges, the brain stops fully participating in decision making. It stops working so hard, or diverts focus to other tasks. So unless you deliberately fight a habit—unless you find new routines—the pattern will unfold automatically.”
  • “Habits, scientists say, emerge because the brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort.”
  • “This explains why habits are so powerful: They create neurological cravings.”
  • “Willpower isn’t just a skill. It’s a muscle, like the muscles in your arms or legs, and it gets tired as it works harder, so there’s less power left over for other things.”
  • “This is how willpower becomes a habit: by choosing a certain behavior ahead of time, and then following that routine when an inflection point arrives.”
  • “Typically, people who exercise, start eating better and becoming more productive at work. They smoke less and show more patience with colleagues and family. They use their credit cards less frequently and say they feel less stressed. Exercise is a keystone habit that triggers widespread change.”
  • “Champions don’t do extraordinary things. They do ordinary things, but they do them without thinking, too fast for the other team to react. They follow the habits they’ve learned.”
  • “Good leaders seize crises to remake organizational habits.”
  • “This is the real power of habit: the insight that your habits are what you choose them to be.”
  • “Studies have documented that families who habitually eat dinner together seem to raise children with better homework skills, higher grades, greater emotional control, and more confidence.”
  • “The best agencies understood the importance of routines. The worst agencies were headed by people who never thought about it, and then wondered why no one followed their orders.”
  • “The Golden Rule of Habit Change: You can’t extinguish a bad habit, you can only change it.”
  • “The key to victory was creating the right routines.”

“THE POWER OF HABIT” – The book:

Duhigg describes a habit as “a choice that we deliberately make at some point, and then stop thinking about, but continue doing, often every day.” One study by Duke University researchers found that more than 40% of the actions people performed each day weren’t actual decisions, but habits.

The habits we develop as individuals can be our best friends, propelling us forward toward our goals. They can also be our worst enemies, dragging us downward like gravity to our detriment. But habits themselves are merely tools, indifferent to their affect, so learning to wield them is the ultimate challenge and opportunity. Through anecdotes, interviews, and years of research, “The Power of Habits” describes how habits are formed, how they can be changed, and why they’re so powerful.

Duhigg begins with a description of the habit loop. This is a circular process with three main components:

  • The Cue: A situational trigger that is based on a reward you’re seeking.
  • The Routine: A physical or emotional action you take to obtain the reward.
  • The Reward: The satisfaction you seek by following the routine.

While Duhigg admits that change might not be fast and it certainly isn’t easy, he believes that with time and effort, almost any habit can be reshaped.

Habits can not be eradicated but they can be replaced. His Golden Rule of Habit is to keep the same cue and same reward but replace the routine.

He offers 4 steps to do that:

  1. Identify the routine. Is it for example going to Starbucks each afternoon for a tea and cookie?
  1. Experiment with different rewards. Rewards satisfy cravings. But the tricky part is that we are often not conscious of the cravings that drive our behaviours. Interesting! So is the reward of the cookie and tea really the sugar burst or is it the energy of the location, the change of pace? How do you figure it out? Adjust the reward. For example, instead of the cookie and tea at Starbucks, try socializing for ten minutes, or go to Starbucks but eat an apple on the way and then just have the tea, or go for a brisk walk for ten minutes. That way you can figure out if you are really craving the cookie and tea at Starbucks or are just looking for an energy boost. Which new activity will satisfy the craving?
  1. Isolate the cue. What are you thinking the moment you decide to go to Starbucks? If you keep track of this over a few days, you will identify what is triggering the urge.
  1. Have a plan.  Decide exactly what you will do when the craving hits then follow your plan.

The book contains lots of stories illustrating habits – from personal stories of people who built habits, to stories about the people who were studied in the experiments that created habit theory, to stories of how companies used the basic concepts of habits to create better (and more profitable) companies or advertising campaigns (Target and Frebreze) but also happier and more fulfilled employees (Alco and Starbucks).

In Brief: I believe the book provides some amazing insight on how good habits or bad habits can be created, refined, and extended.

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