The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business

The Power of Habit
Publisher: Random House
Published: 2/28/2012
A young woman walks into a laboratory. Over the past two years, she has transformed almost every aspect of her life. She has quit smoking, run a marathon, and been promoted at work. The patterns inside her brain, neurologists discover, have fundamentally changed.

The Power Of Habit by Charles Duhigg

Have you ever caved and dated that person you said you were never going to date again?

Have you continuously cheated on your diet even when you promised yourself you weren't going to?

Do you continuously procrastinate your work because you know you'll get it done in the end?

Sound familiar?

That's because it's a habit and it's something we all do.

Humans are creatures of habit. Habits make us feel comfortable and familiar. We do them because we already know the outcome. However, habits are not bad all of the time. Once we learn to distinguish the good from the bad, we can start to use habits to our advantage.

"The Golden Rule of Habit Change: You can't extinguish a bad habit, you can only change it." - Charles Duhigg

In, "The Power of Habit" by Charles Duhigg, he discusses how habits actually work so you can do your best to overcome them. Understanding is the key to success.

Key Points

What Habits Do To the Brain

In an experiment involving mice and chocolate, scientists from MIT determined that once mice started performing habitually to find the chocolate they were smelling, their brain activity decreased. Transferring that information to humans- once something becomes a habit, you don't think about it anymore. You simply just do it.

The formation of a habit can be broken in a 3-step process.

  1. External Cue- for the mice, it was the smell of the chocolate that sparked brain activity.
  2. Routine- once the mice smelled the chocolate, they began looking for it.
  3. Reward- the mice get the chocolate at the end. This completes and solidifies this succession of events, creating a new habit.

Why Habits Stick

The crave-factor is what makes habits hard to kick.

If you are used to indulging in a morning coffee, but you are trying to be tight with cash, you'll definitely be craving the reward of a Starbucks while you're slowly sipping on your homebrewed joe. That is why habits are hard to break.

By understanding this, you can use it to your advantage by forming good habits.

Substitute Your Routine

Have you ever heard of people swapping cigarettes for toothpicks? This is the power of substitution when it comes to replacing a habit. By putting a toothpick in your mouth, you are substituting the cigarette and forming a new habit.

A prominent example of routine substitution in our society is AA meetings. Alcoholics use these sessions to substitute their abuse of alcohol.

Keystone Habits

Keystone habits, as Duhigg calls them, are the small habits that hold everything together. They are the building blocks for routines.

These habits can help to change your lifestyle dramatically. For example, if someone is trying to cut out sugar, developing the keystone habit of writing down sugar intake will help to center the focus on the goal. This small win will help to forward your progress.

Another example of a keystone habit is wearing your gym clothes to bed to make it easier to wake up earlier to exercise.

These little changes in your routine, or keystone habits, can help to establish lifestyle changes.

Science of Willpower

Willpower is a crucial factor in breaking or forming a habit.

"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." -Charles Duhigg

Some days willpower is not as strong as others, and that is because it can become tiresome. But, there are ways to strengthen your willpower, such as preparing for unpleasant situations or creating a strict routine that you must follow.

How Companies Utilize Habit

To utilize sales, companies try to go with what's familiar to the consumer. For example, produce is usually at the front of the store, and the milk is at the back.

"Whether selling a new song, a new food, or a new crib, the lesson is the same: If you dress something new in old habits, it's easier for the public to accept it." -Charles Duhigg

We Are Responsible for Our Habits

We are the only ones who can change our habits.

Once you label a habit to be "bad," it is your responsibility to diminish it.

If a habit is considered "bad," it may be of harm to someone else, which is why your duty to change it is so great. For example, if you are a regular smoker, and you have a child, the habit of smoking in the house with your child present could be considered a danger to their health. So, if you're aware that second-hand smoke is a hazard, it is your responsibility to quit smoking or smoke outside away from your child.

"almost all the other patterns that exist in most people's lives—how we eat and sleep and talk to our kids, how we unthinkingly spend our time, attention, and money—those are habits that we know exist. And once you understand that habits can change, you have the freedom—and the responsibility—to remake them. Once you understand that habits can be rebuilt, the power of habit becomes easier to grasp, and the only option left is to get to work." -Charles Duhigg

The Big Take-Away

Habits are present in our everyday lives, and we must learn to understand them to use them to our advantage. We must be able to determine good habits from bad habits. And, if a habit is bad, we must substitute its presence.

All habits are formed by an external cue, in which a routine follows, to finally land at the reward of the habit loop. When people, like businesses, start understanding that, they will begin to become more successful and productive in their everyday lives.


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