The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do, and How to Change - by Charles Duhigg

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do, and How to Change – by Charles Duhigg

How strongly I recommend it: 7/10
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Charles Duhigg gives you a way to identify the habits you have and you’re not aware of, and most important, how to modify them in the way you want.


1. Identify the routine:

  • Where’s the cue?
  • What’s the Routine?
  • What’s the Reward?

2. When you have identify it, experiment with different rewards to see what happens.
3. When you know the cue, isolate it.To identify a cue amid the noise, we can use the same system as the psychologist. Identify categories of behaviors ahead of time of scrutinize in order to see patterns. Science offers some help in this regard. Experiments have shown that almost all habitual cues fit into one of 5 categories:- Location.

  • Time.
  • Emotional state.
  • Other people.
  • Immediately preceding action.

4. Have a plan.A habit is a formula our brain automatically follows. When I use CUE, I will do ROUTINE, in order to get a REWARD.

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.
the brain’s dependence on automatic routines can be dangerous. Habits are often as much a curse as a benefit.
Researchers have learned that cues can be almost anything, from a visual trigger such as a candy bar or a television commercial to a certain place, a time of day, an emotion, a sequence of thoughts, or the company of particular people.
To sell Pepsodent, then, Hopkins needed a trigger that would justify the toothpaste’s daily use. He sat down with a pile of dental textbooks. “It was dry reading,” he later wrote. “But in the middle of one book I found a reference to the mucin plaques on teeth, which I afterward called ‘the film.’ That gave me an appealing idea. I resolved to advertise this toothpaste as a creator of beauty. To deal with that cloudy film.”
That psychology was grounded in two basic rules: First, find a simple and obvious cue. Second, clearly define the rewards. If you get those elements right, Hopkins promised, it was like magic. Look at Pepsodent: He had identified a cue—tooth film—and a reward—beautiful teeth—that had persuaded millions to start a daily ritual. Even today, Hopkins’s rules are a staple of marketing textbooks and the foundation of millions of ad campaigns.
And those same principles have been used to create thousands of other habits—often without people realizing how closely they are hewing to Hopkins’s formula. Studies of people who have successfully started new exercise routines, for instance, show they are more likely to stick with a workout plan if they choose a specific cue, such as running as soon as they get home from work, and a clear reward, such as a beer or an evening of guilt-free television.2.13 Research on dieting says creating new food habits requires a predetermined cue—such as planning menus in advance—and simple rewards for dieters when they stick to their intentions.2.14
This is how new habits are created: by putting together a cue, a routine, and a reward, and then cultivating a craving that drives the loop.
But countless studies have shown that a cue and a reward, on their own, aren’t enough for a new habit to last. Only when your brain starts expecting the reward—craving the endorphins or sense of accomplishment—will it become automatic to lace up your jogging shoes each morning. The cue, in addition to triggering a routine, must also trigger a craving for the reward to come.
Claude Hopkins wasn’t selling beautiful teeth. He was selling a sensation. Once people craved that cool tingling—once they equated it with cleanliness—brushing became a habit.
“Consumers need some kind of signal that a product is working,” Tracy Sinclair, who was a brand manager for Oral-B and Crest Kids Toothpaste, told me. “We can make toothpaste taste like anything—blueberries, green tea—and as long as it has a cool tingle, people feel like their mouth is clean. The tingling doesn’t make the toothpaste work any better. It just convinces people it’s doing the job.”
You Can’t Extinguish a Bad Habit, You Can Only Change It.
O’Neill had always been a big believer in lists. Lists were how he organized his life. In college at Fresno State—where he finished his courses in a bit over three years, while also working thirty hours a week—O’Neill had drafted a list of everything he hoped to accomplish during his lifetime, including, near the top, “Make a Difference.”
This is the final way that keystone habits encourage widespread change: by creating cultures where new values become ingrained. Keystone habits make tough choices—such as firing a top executive—easier, because when that person violates the culture, it’s clear they have to go. Sometimes these cultures manifest themselves in special vocabularies, the use of which becomes, itself, a habit that defines an organization. At Alcoa, for instance, there were “Core Programs” and “Safety Philosophies,” phrases that acted like suitcases, containing whole conversations about priorities, goals, and ways of thinking.
“If you want to do something that requires willpower—like going for a run after work—you have to conserve your willpower muscle during the day,”
“If you use it up too early on tedious tasks like writing emails or filling out complicated and boring expense forms, all the strength will be gone by the time you get home.”
After two months, the researchers scrutinized the rest of the participants’ lives to see if increased willpower at the gym resulted in greater willpower at home. Before the experiment began, most of the subjects were self-professed couch potatoes.
“When you learn to force yourself to go to the gym or start your homework or eat a salad instead of a hamburger, part of what’s happening is that you’re changing how you think,” said Todd Heatherton, a researcher at Dartmouth who has worked on willpower studies.5.11 “People get better at regulating their impulses. They learn how to distract themselves from temptations. And once you’ve gotten into that willpower groove, your brain is practiced at helping you focus on a goal.”
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.
They designed their own uniforms and had authority over shifts. Nothing else changed. All the manufacturing processes and pay scales stayed the same. Within two months, productivity at the plant increased by 20 percent. Workers were taking shorter breaks. They were making fewer mistakes. Giving employees a sense of control improved how much self-discipline they brought to their jobs.
The same lessons hold true at Starbucks. Today, the company is focused on giving employees a greater sense of authority. They have asked workers to redesign how espresso machines and cash registers are laid out, to decide for themselves how customers should be greeted and where merchandise should be displayed. It’s not unusual for a store manager to spend hours discussing with his employees where a blender should be located. “We’ve started asking partners to use their intellect and creativity, rather than telling them ‘take the coffee out of the box, put the cup here, follow this rule,’ ” said Kris Engskov, a vice president at Starbucks. “People want to be in control of their lives.”
Makes the difference between success or failure are a designer’s routines—whether they have a system for getting Italian broadcloth before wholesalers’ stocks sell out, a process for finding the best zipper and button seamstresses, a routine for shipping a dress to a store in ten days, rather than three weeks. Fashion is such a complicated business that, without the right processes, a new company will get bogged down with logistics, and once that happens, creativity ceases to matter. And which new designers are most likely to have the right habits? The ones who have formed the right truces and found the right alliances.6.26 Truces are so important that new fashion labels usually succeed only if they are headed by people who left other fashion companies on good terms.
A company with dysfunctional habits can’t turn around simply because a leader orders it. Rather, wise executives seek out moments of crisis—or create the perception of crisis—and cultivate the sense that something must change, until everyone is finally ready to overhaul the patterns they live with each day. “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste,” Rahm Emanuel told a conference of chief executives in the wake of the 2008 global financial meltdown, soon after he was appointed as President Obama’s chief of staff. “This crisis provides the opportunity for us to do things that you could not do before.”
if we start our shopping sprees by loading up on healthy stuff, we’re much more likely to buy Doritos, Oreos, and frozen pizza when we encounter them later on. The burst of subconscious virtuousness that comes from first buying butternut squash makes it easier to put a pint of ice cream in the cart later.
People’s buying habits are more likely to change when they go through a major life event. When someone gets married, for example, they’re more likely to start buying a new type of coffee. When they move into a new house, they’re more apt to purchase a different kind of cereal. When they get divorced, there’s a higher chance they’ll start buying different brands of beer.7.7 Consumers going through major life events often don’t notice, or care, that their shopping patterns have shifted. However, retailers notice, and they care quite a bit.7.8
To change people’s diets, the exotic must be made familiar. And to do that, you must camouflage it in everyday garb.
“Hey Ya!” needed to become part of an established listening habit to become a hit. And to become part of a habit, it had to be slightly camouflaged at first, the same way housewives camouflaged kidney by slipping it into meatloaf. So at WIOQ in Philadelphia—as well as at other stations around the nation—DJs started making sure that whenever “Hey Ya!” was played, it was sandwiched between songs that were already popular. “It’s textbook playlist theory now,” said Tom Webster, a radio consultant. “Play a new song between two consensus popular hits.”
The answer to Target and Pole’s question—how do you advertise to a pregnant woman without revealing that you know she’s pregnant?—was essentially the same one that DJs used to hook listeners on “Hey Ya!” Target started sandwiching the diaper coupons between nonpregnancy products that made the advertisements seem anonymous, familiar, comfortable. They camouflaged what they knew.
If you dress a new something in old habits, it’s easier for the public to accept it.
To identify a cue amid the noise, we can use the same system as the psychologist: Identify categories of behaviors ahead of time to scrutinize in order to see patterns.
Luckily, science offers some help in this regard. Experiments have shown that almost all habitual cues fit into one of five categories: Location Time Emotional state Other people Immediately preceding action So if you’re trying to figure out the cue for the “going to the cafeteria and buying a chocolate chip cookie” habit, you write down five things the moment the urge hits (these are my actual notes from when I was trying to diagnose my habit): Where are you? (sitting at my desk) What time is it? (3:36 P.M.) What’s your emotional state? (bored) Who else is around? (no one) What action preceded the urge? (answered an email) The next day: Where are you? (walking back from the copier) What time is it? (3:18 P.M.) What’s your emotional state? (happy) Who else is around? (Jim from Sports) What action preceded the urge? (made a photocopy) The third day: Where are you? (conference room) What time is it? (3:41 P.M.) What’s your emotional state? (tired, excited about the project I’m working on) Who else is around? (editors who are coming to this meeting) What action preceded the urge? (I sat down because the meeting is about to start) Three days in, it was pretty clear which cue was triggering my cookie habit—I felt an urge to get a snack at a certain time of day. I had already figured out, in step two, that it wasn’t hunger driving my behavior. The reward I was seeking was a temporary distraction—the kind that comes from gossiping with a friend. And the habit, I now knew, was triggered between 3:00 and 4:00.
Put another way, a habit is a formula our brain automatically follows: When I see CUE, I will do ROUTINE in order to get a REWARD.
To re-engineer that formula, we need to begin making choices again. And the easiest way to do this, according to study after study, is to have a plan. Within psychology, these plans are known as “implementation intentions.” Take, for instance, my cookie-in-the-afternoon habit. By using this framework, I learned that my cue was roughly 3:30 in the afternoon. I knew that my routine was to go to the cafeteria, buy a cookie, and chat with friends. And, through experimentation, I had learned that it wasn’t really the cookie I craved—rather, it was a moment of distraction and the opportunity to socialize. So I wrote a plan: At 3:30, every day, I will walk to a friend’s desk and talk for 10 minutes. To make sure I remembered to do this, I set the alarm on my watch for 3:30. It didn’t work immediately. There were some days I was too busy and ignored the alarm, and then fell off the wagon. Other times it seemed like too much work to find a friend willing to chat—it was easier to get a cookie, and so I gave in to the urge. But on those days that I abided by my plan—when my alarm went off, I forced myself to walk to a friend’s desk and chat for ten minutes—I found that I ended the workday feeling better.
Obviously, changing some habits can be more difficult. But this framework is a place to start. Sometimes change takes a long time. Sometimes it requires repeated experiments and failures. But once you understand how a habit operates—once you diagnose the cue, the routine and the reward—you gain power over it.