Nov 15

Book Notes – The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg

A couple of weeks ago I read The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, by Charles Duhigg. I really liked it as it describes mechanisms of forming habits and helps us change them. Since there are several “bad” habits I would like to change in my life, the recommendations in the book will come handy.

Here are several quotes from the book that I find especially interesting or useful.

Habit process is a three-step loop.

First there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future

Habits can be changed, replaced or ignored. We can choose our habits (no matter how complex) once we know how.

Habits aren’t destiny.

Habit loop is very important.

When a habit emerges, the brain stops fully participating in decision making. It stops working so hard, or diverts focus to other tasks. … unless you find new routines – the pattern will unfold automatically.

Without habit loops, out brains would shut down, overwhelmed by the minutae of daily life.

Advertisers have learned that craving is what makes cues and rewards work so they use it for their own agenda.

Cravings are what drive habits. And figuring out how to spark a craving makes creating a new habit easier.

Habits are created:

by putting together a cue, a routine, and a reward, and then cultivating a craving that drives the loop.

We must recognize which craving is driving the behavior, if we want to overpower the habit.

Only a cue and a reward are not enough if we want to change a habit for good.

Only when your brain starts expecting the reward, … will it become automatic… The cue, in addition to triggering a routine, must also trigger a craving for the reward to come.

Rule for changing a habit seems quite simple.

If you use the same cue, and provide the same reward, you can shift the routine and change the habit.

There is a golden rule of habit change:

You can’t extinguish a bad habit, you can only change it. … USE THE SAME CUE. PROVIDE THE SAME REWARD. CHANGE THE ROUTINE.

Often we need help from other people if we want to permanently change a habit.

For a habit to stay changed, people must believe change is possible. And most often, that belief only emerges with the help of a group.

Changing or maintaining keystone habits can cause larger shifts in our behavior. But

To find them, you have to know where to look. Detecting keystone habits means searching out certain characteristics. Keystone habits offer … “small wins”

A habit cannot be erased, it must be replaced. If we keep the same cue and the same reward, a new routine can be inserted. We need a help from others as well so it is best if we commit to changing a habit as a part of a group.

For a habit to stay changed, people must believe change is possible. And most often, that belief only emerges with the help of a group.

Small wins are very important, because they have an influence disproportionate to the accomplishments of the victories themselves. They are a steady application of a small advantage.

One of the most important habits is willpower. The best way to strengthen it, is to make it a habit. And to make it a habit we need to choose a certain behavior ahead of time, and then follow that new routine, when an inflection point (cue) arrives.

Organizations also have habits. The best time to change an organizational habit is during a crisis.

You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.

Our brain is wired in such a way that it craves familiarity (for example in music; otherwise we might become distracted by all the sounds around us).

… behavioral habits prevent us from becoming overwhelmed by the endless decisions we would otherwise have to make each day.

If you want to sell something new to the people, you need to make it familiar.

If you dress a new something in old habits, it’s easier for the public to accept it.

We are social creatures.

People want to visit places that satisfy their social needs.

Starting a movement is not easy.

A movement starts because of the social habits of friendship and the strong ties between close acquaintances. It grows because of the habits of the community, and the weak ties that hold neighborhoods and clans together. And it endures because a movement’s leaders give participants new habits that create a fresh sense of identity and a feeling of ownership.

Changing a habit is not easy.

… to modify a habit, you must decide to change it. You must consciously accept the hard work of identifying the cues and rewards that drive the habits’ routines and find alternatives. You must know you have control and be self-conscious enough to use it.

And once you realize that habits can change,

you have the freedom – and the responsibility – to remake them.

If you believe you can change, the change becomes real.

The framework for changing a habit has several steps:

  • identify the routine

To understand your own habits, you need to identify the components of your loops. Once you have diagnosed the habit loop of a particular behavior, you can look for ways to supplant old vices with new routines.

  • Experiment with rewards

To figure out which cravings are driving particular habits, it’s useful to experiment with different rewards. This might take a few days, or a week, or longer. During that period you should not feel any pressure to make a real change

  • Isolate the cue

The reason why it is so hard to identify the cues that trigger our habits is because there is too much information bombarding us

Almost all cues fit into one of five categories: location, time, emotional state, other people, immediately preceding action. So if you are trying to figure out a cue, answer five questions the moment the urge hits:

  1. Where are you?
  2. What time is it?
  3. What is your emotional state?
  4. Who else is around?
  5. What action preceded the urge?
  • Have a plan

A habit is a formula our brain automatically follows: When I see a CUE, I will do ROUTINE in order to get a REWARD. To reengineer that formula we need to begin making choices again. And the easiest way to do this … is to have a plan.

Write down what you intend to do when you feel the urge.