Charles Duhigg’s “The Power of Habit”

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A few weeks ago, I received a copy of the The Power of Habit, a book about the science of habit formation by Charles Duhigg, a staff writer at the New York Times.  I have to concur with Dan Pink‘s blurb, “Once you read this book, you'll never look at yourself, your organization, or your world quite the same way.”

Duhigg's four-step framework for reshaping habits is as follows:

  1. Identify the routine — At the core of every habit is a loop that consists of three parts:  a cue, routine and reward (e.g. It's 3:30 pm, I eat a chocolate chip cookie, now I feel ______).
  2. Experiment with rewards — Rewards satisfy cravings; identify what you are really craving.
  3. Isolate the cue — Diagnose the triggers for the craving.
  4. Have a plan — You can't change the cue, but you can change the routine that will get you the reward that you seek.


A quick Q&A:

Q.  How did your life change as a result of writing this book? 

A.   I lost about 30 lbs and I'm now training for the NYC marathon; my life has become more my own.

Q.  How has your research impacted how you rear your children?

A.  I started reporting on this topic when my first son Oliver, who will be four next month, was born. Understanding the importance of habits, and the 100 habits of self-discpline, we are more resolved to have him make his bed, straighten his room, take a bath, eat dinner together, read a story — and eventually to do his homework, each day.

Q.  How do you apply what you learned to writing?

A.  Because I'm a journalist I'm used to writing.  But I'll still think, ugh, I've got 30 pages to read and edit.  I also know that it's just a matter of starting.  My research reminds me that if I can habituate myself to edit just one sentence, I'll  get so drawn into the text, I'll be off.

Q.  Any major idea you'd like to convey? 

A.   There's something magical about the neurology of habits.  Any habit can change.  At any point in your life.  Habits are completely malleable.  Once we understand the habit loop of cue, routine and reward, we can begin to change behavior.


My takeaways:

1)  “There's something magical about the neurology of habits.”  When I'm tired I'll think, I'm just going to eat this treat, it doesn't matter.  But it does.  Everytime I do something the same or differently, I'm reinforcing or reworking the loop.  And that's encouraging.  For example, two evenings this week I stopped eating at 9pm, rather than grazing until midnight, because I was reminded that one small win can make a difference.

2)  “Belief is the ingredient that makes a reworked habit loop into a permanent behavior; belief is easier when it occurs within a community.”  Duhigg relates that as a head football coach, Tony Dungy's teams had done a superb job of changing their habits, but reverted to old ones in championship games.  It was only after the tragic death of Dungy's son did the team have the ‘belief' they needed to win.  In 2007, the Indianapolis Colts won the Super Bowl.

As we rework the habit loop of daring and dreaming, it will be easier when we do this as a community:  we dream best when we dream together.


One last idea:

If you are a Gladwell The Tipping Point fan, you will likely find this interesting.  Dissecting the Civil Rights movement from the perspective of habits, Duhigg concludes “it wasn't inevitable that Parks' rebellion would result in anything other than her arrest.  Bu then habits intervened, and something amazing occured.” Summarizing:

1)  A movement starts because of social habits of friendship and the strong ties between close acquaintances — Because Rosa Parks was deeply respected and embedded within her community, when she was arrested it triggered a series of social habits — the habits of friendship — that ignited an initial protest.

2)  It grows because of the habits of a community, and the weak ties that hold neighborhoods and clans together. — The Montgomery bus boycott became a society-wide action because the sense of obligation that held the black community together was activated when Parks' friends started spreading the word. People who hardly knew Parks decided to participate because of social peer pressure.

3)  It endures because a movement's leaders give participants new habits that create a fresh sense of identity and ownership. Duhigg writes, “these social habits weren't strong enough on their own to extend a one-day boycott into a yearlong movement…but these fears evaporated when the protesters stood their ground freed from fear, and were now sustained by new habits that had changed their sense of self.”


What habits would you like to change?

Does this strengthen your resolve to require your children to create good habits?  I kept thinking.. “Train up your child in the way she should go.”

How have you seen social habits effect change?


“There's something magical about the neurology of habits.” – @cduhigg

“Champions don’t do extraordinary things. They do ordinary things without thinking, too fast for the other team to react.” – @cduhigg

“Routines are the organizational analogues of habits.” — @cduhigg

“Once a small win has been accomplished, forces are set in motion that favor another small win.” – @cduhigg

“A community creates belief.” — @cduhigg

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