Does your hand automatically reach for your phone on your bedside as soon as you wake up? Do you think about how to create a knot while tying your shoelaces or has it become such a natural process that you don’t even think about its steps These actions have become unconscious sequences that we do not perform deliberately; or to put a label on them: habits. You know what you’re doing, but you do not consciously choose to initiate the action. A habit happens actually half of the time you are awake, while you are performing automatic behaviors.

the power of habit book

Today’s book summary is on “The Power of Habit“, where Charles Duhigg explores the human brain’s nature to form habits out of daily actions to make room for more complicated processes; and examines how they are created and how they can be changed. The book is divided into 3 parts: Habits of Individuals, Habits of Successful Organizations, and Habits of Societies.

To make things more efficient for you, we’ve read the book and provided you with its summary in 10 points:

The power of habit

Cue

Tells your brain to go into automatic mode. It can be anything that triggers the habit, such as a person, a place, a time of the day or an emotional state.

Routine

The activity in the habit that you wish to either break or reinforce.

Reward

The positive reinforcement that helps your brain remember that this loop is worth remembering in the future.

Habits of individuals

1

Habits emerge as the brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort. The brain will make almost any routine into a habit because it gives it more space for more complicated actions.

2

Habits form in our brain through a three-step loop: the cue, the routine, and the reward. In the book, Charles Duhigg illustrates the habit loop by recounting an experiment that was executed by MIT scientists by monitoring a rat’s brain while he wandered around a maze, and discovering a chocolate bar. The repetition of the loop builds up a craving for the reward, which makes the habit more difficult to break because it has created a neurological need that you don’t even know exists. Once the brain associates a specific cue (the click in the partition) with a particular reward (the chocolate at the end of the maze), it starts craving the reward as soon as a click is heard, even if it’s not in the same setting anymore.

3

For you to change a habit, you need to identify and remove cues that trigger the routine or replace the lousy routine with a good one. Cues fit into one of the following categories: location, time, emotional state, other people, and immediately preceding actions. What makes you pull out a cigarette? Do you feel anxious? Angry? Do you smoke when you get to work, or with specific friends? Once you know when and why you perform a specific habit, you will be able to replace that habit with an alternative one. So for example, if you smoke because you’re anxious, you could practice breathing in and out for a couple of minutes or chewing gum instead.

4

To replace an old habit with a new one, you have to change the routine. Also, you have to believe that you can stick to the new habit. This belief is what helps to prevent you from relapsing to the old habit. To take control of your habits, decide your goals in life and fit them into the belief of achieving.

5

Try to adopt keystone habits. Keystone habits are ones that have a ripple effect, ones that help you in taking more positive habits and a new lifestyle. If for example, you get enough sleep at night (the keystone habit), you’ll wake up refreshed, which would encourage you to start exercising or eating breakfast (result positive habits) before you head to work.

6

Willpower is a learned skill. It is like a muscle, the more it is practiced, the stronger it gets. Having strong willpower helps in building new, positive habits. If you’re trying to maintain a habit of 1 hour of exercise every morning before school or work, it would be easy to give in to the pleasure of getting an extra hour of sleep. A lot of people quit working out a couple of weeks in. That’s why in addition to the physical challenge that you’ll be putting yourself through, there is a mental challenge as well. Practice motivating yourself out loud, or having sticky notes around your room to remind you of what you want to achieve.

Habits of successful organizations

1

With managers having the upper hand and the final say in decision-making, employees’ opinions are sometimes unheard. The author suggests that smart leaders are ones that keep their employees’ empowering and innovative ideas when structural and root changes are happening in a company. And it is best done during crises! On an organizational level, crises are great opportunities for leaders to start implementing institutional changes, and instill new, positive habits.

2

Another way companies use habits is with customers. Companies usually study consumers’ habits and try to manipulate these habits to increase profit. It is easier to market new products by utilizing the old habits that we already have, rather than aim to have us adopt new habits. Don’t you sometimes find the gym advertising for a discounted membership if you bring along your friends? They already know how you enjoy spending time with your friends, and by using a habit that you already have (hanging out with friends), they encourage you to buy their gym membership..you and two other friends. The repetition of the loop builds up a craving for the reward, which makes the habit more difficult to break because it has created a neurological need that you don’t even know exists. Once the brain associates a specific cue (the click in the partition) with a particular reward (the chocolate at the end of the maze), it starts craving the reward as soon as a click is heard, even if it’s not in the same setting anymore.

Habits of societies

1

In the 16th century in Alabama, at a time where buses were sectioned according to race, Rosa Parks walked into a bus in Alabama and sat in the area dedicated to either race; and when a white man wanted her to give up her seat for him, she refused. Her act, supported by others who had previously done similar acts of rebellion, lead to a boycott.

2

What the Power of Habits investigates is how your firm or weak ties affect your habits with people and in the community. Don’t you sometimes find the gym advertising for a discounted membership if you bring along your friends? They already know how you enjoy spending time with your friends, and by using a habit that you already have (hanging out with friends), they encourage you to buy their gym membership..you and two other friends. The repetition of the loop builds up a craving for the reward, which makes the habit more difficult to break because it has created a neurological need that you don’t even know exists. Once the brain associates a specific cue (the click in the partition) with a particular reward (the chocolate at the end of the maze), it starts craving the reward as soon as a click is heard, even if it’s not in the same setting anymore.

When social movements or protests occur, they have 3 parts:

  • They begin because of the strong habits between close acquaintances.
  • They grow because of the strong habits in a community.
  • They endure because of the new habits that leaders create.

The boycott movement that happened in Alabama did not come out of the blue, but it was a result of certain habits performed by people over the course of time. The book discussed several incidents when the habits of societies were the reason for the change.

Are we responsible for our habits?

1

Charles Duhigg concludes the book by questioning our free will in controlling our habits. If we’re not able to control them, are we still accountable for our actions? To be able to choose what to do and what not to do, we have to be conscious of our habits. Once we do, we will have the ability to recognize the cues, the rewards and be able to break or change them.

As a first step in trying to create and maintain positive habits, we’re providing you with the habit tracker. Take some time to think about keystone habits that could give your life the productive turn it needs, write them down and start tracking your commitment to them.

Download The Habit Tracker

Which book do you wish to see next in our 5-min.books series?

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