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  • Writer's pictureAnderson Petergeorge

The Power of Habit - Charles Duhigg


Overview

Scientific discoveries that explain why habits exist and how they can be changed. The book explains why some people and companies struggle to change, despite years of trying, while others seem to remake themselves overnight. It visits laboratories where neuroscientists explore how habits work and where, exactly, they reside in our brains.


Part One - The Habits of Individuals

  • Habit Loop: The reason the discovery of the habit loop is so important is that it reveals a basic truth: 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."

  • Habits never really disappear. They're encoded into the structures of our brain, and that's a huge advantage for us, because it would be awful if we had to relearn how to drive after every vacation.

  • The problem is that your brain can't tell the difference between bad and good habits and so if you have a bad one, it's lurking, waiting for the right cues and rewards.

  • Habits, as much as memory and reason are at the root of how we behave. We might not remember the experiences that create our habits, but once they are lodged within our brains they influence how we act - often without our realization

  • Studies indicate that families usually don't intend to east fast food on a regular basis. What happens is that a once a month pattern slowly becomes once a week, and then twice a week - as the cues and rewards create a habit - until the family is consuming an unhealthy amount of fast food

  • Fries are designed to being disintegrating the moment they hit your tongue in order to deliver a hit of salt and grease as fast as possible, causing you pleasure centers to light up and your brain to lock in the pattern. All the better for tightening the habit loop.

  • Quote: " By learning to observe the cues and rewards, though, we can change these routines and habits"

How to Create New Habits

  • Craving is what makes cues and rewards work. Craving is what powers the habit loop.

  • In order to make using toothpaste a habit, Charles Hopkins (one of the greatest advertisers) focused on find a cue that everyone can focus on. "Removing film from your teeth". The cue was to tell people to "just run your tongue across your teeth"

  • The cue was to tell people that had dingy film on their teeth. People however didn't realize that we all always have film on our teeth but used this as cue to get people to use toothpaste.

  • The key, Hopkins says is he learned the right human psychology which is based on two rules:

    • First, find a simple and obvious cue

    • Second, clearly define the rewards

  • Craving is created when you expect the reward and can visualize it

  • Research Experiment Example: Trained a monkey to receive juice after it sees a shape on the screen and when the monkey pulls a lever. The brain would initially spike with high level activity "happiness" when it received the juice. However this changed after the process was repeated multiple times for the brain to receive happiness when the shape was seen on the screen even before the lever was pulled. The brain was used to the habit of following it up with pulling the lever and receiving the juice reward. Once the juice wasn't given though craving was monitored in the brain levels of the monkey after the habit was created. This led to sadness and depression because the monkey EXPECTED to receive the reward and could not shake the craving due to the habit being created

  • "This explain why habits are so powerful: The create neurological cravings"

  • In malls, Cinnabon stores are positioned AWAY from food courts because Cinnabon executives want the smell of cinnamon rolls to waft down hallways and around corners uninterrupted by smells of other foods to have shoppers consciously crave a cinnamon roll. By the time the shopper turns the corner and sees the Cinnabon store that craving is a roaring monster inside their head and they will reach for their wallet instinctively.

  • To overpower a habit, we must recognize which craving is driving our behaviour. Ife we're not conscious of the anticipation we will be like the shopper who walked into Cinnabon due to a "unseen force"

  • Febreeze Case Study: The executives had approached the product wrong initially in trying to see the cue as something smelling bad in the house in order to use febreeze. Smelling something bad was not a rewarding cue. However when they realized AFTER someone had cleaned their place, spraying febreeze was seen as a reward and created a reward cue. Therefore when people were cleaning they were craving the febreeze smell as a cue that they finished cleaning and can enjoy the work done. Once this cue was built into cleaning febreeze started became a hit and staple within the household

  • This is also why toothpaste became a staple in households. People started to want to brush their teeth because of the cooling sensation that they feel in their mouth after they brush. It was a rewarding cue that felt nice and also signaled to the brain the teeth were clean

  • "Consumers need some kind of signal that a product is working"

  • Shampoo doesn't have to foam, but companies add foaming chemicals because people expect it each time they wash their hair, gives them the cue their hair is clean and creates the habit to use it to wash their hair"

  • Ways people are able to stop a habit loop and one craving is by having a stronger craving for something else.

  • Someone who is dieting for example could buy a swim suit of their dreams and have that hanging on their door. The craving to wear that swim suit can trump over their craving in the habit loop to eat a sugary breakfast and break that habit loop.

The Golden Rule of Habit Change

  • Habits are a three-step loop, the cue, the routine and the reward

  • It is easier to convince someone to adopt a new behaviour if there was something familiar at the beginning and end

  • Golden Rule: You must keep the old cue, and deliver the old reward, but insert a new routine

  • Golden rule has influenced treatments for alcoholism, obesity, and obsessive disorders to mention a few extremes

  • Alcoholics Anonymous Case Study: "AA forces you to create new routines for what to do each night instead of drinking. You can relax and talk through your anxieties at the meetings. The triggers and payoffs stay the same, its just the behaviour that changes."

  • Asking patients to describe what triggers their habitual behavior is called awareness training, and like AA's insistence on forcing alcoholics to recognize their cues, its the first step in habit reversal training.

  • "It seems ridiculously simple, but once you're aware of how your habit works, once you recognize the cues and rewards, you're half way to changing it"

  • Alcoholics who practiced the techniques of habit replacement, the data indicated, could often stay sober until there was a stressful event in their lives - at which point, a certain number started drinking again, no matter how many new routines they embraces. However those alcoholics who believed in some higher power were more likely to make it through the stressful periods.

  • It wasn't God that mattered but the belief that made a difference, once they started to believe in something that skill started to spill into other parts of their lives, into the belief that they could change. Belief was the ingredient that made a reworked habit into permanent behaviour

  • Radical change has been seen in people after personal tragedy (life-threatening illness, divorce, passing of a loved one) however it is also seen in people that are embedded in a new social group (e.g. Joined a group of confident speakers and created the habit of speaking confidently)

Part Two - The Habits of Successful Organizations

  • Some habits matter more than others in remaking businesses and lives. These are "keystone habits", they start a process that, over time, transforms everything

  • The habits that matter most are the ones that, when they start to shift, dislodge and remake other patterns (e.g. bullet journaling, exercising)

  • Exercise has been measured to be a keystone habit. Spills over and helps people feel less stressed leading to other healthy habits and awareness

  • Studies have documented that families who habitually eat dinner together seem to raise children with better homework skills, higher grade, greater emotional control, and more confidence.

  • Making your bed every morning is correlated with better productivity, a greater sense of well-being and stronger skills at sticking with a budget.

  • These habits don't directly impact these benefits but somehow those initial shifts start a chain reaction that help other good habits take hold

  • Small wins are part of how keystone habits create widespread changes.

  • "once a small win has been accomplished, forces are set in motion that favor another small win"

  • Small wins fuel transformative changes by leveraging tiny advantages into patterns that convince people that bigger achievements are within reach.

  • Researchers noted when doctors suggested drastic changes for their clients to change their diet. E.g. Exercise everyday was advice that was hard for patients to follow.

  • Research study: Asked 1,600 obese individuals to create a food journal with them to write down once a week what they ate. This caused many individuals to use this small win into increasing this to a daily food log to then identifying food patterns in their log and adjusting the food around them accordingly. The researchers never suggested anything other than journaling once a week but this was a keystone habit that created other positive habits from it

  • Takeaway: This is why bullet journaling is so helpful, its a keystone habit that allows to tweak other aspects of life

  • University Pennsylvania studied 164 eight-grade students, measuring their IQS and other factors. Those students who exerted high levels of willpower were more likely to earn high grades. "Self-discipline has a bigger effect on academic and work performance than does intellectual talent."

  • The best way to strengthen willpower and give students a leg up, studies indicate, is to make it into a habit.

  • Quote: "Sometimes it looks like people with great self-control aren't working hard - but that's because they've made it automatic."

  • Quote: "Their will power occurs without them having to think about it" - THIS is the goal of habits to create a habit of willpower to study and work harder than other and not even notice it

  • Experiment had children age 4 enter a room with marshmallows on a table. Gave the prompt they can have one marshmallow now or 2 if they wait 15 minutes and excited the rooms. 30% of children were able to resist their urges.

  • When they follow that group of 30% years later into highschool they noticed that those on avg ended up with the best grades and higher SAT scores

  • People initially believe willpower is a learnable skill, something that can be taught the same way kids learn to do math and say "thank you." Many experiments after however proved this wrong. Willpower is a muscle and it gets tired as it works harder, so there's less power left over for other things.

  • Takeaway: Work on the hardest tasks you NEED to get done first thing in the morning when you have the most will power (e.g. Exercise, personal life tasks)

  • Research experiment: Had 64 graduate students skip one meal and enter a room with cookies and radish. Had half the students eat the cookies (not having to use willpower to resist cookies) and the other half eat the radishes (using willpower to resist the cookies. After they had the participants do an unsolvable puzzle and on average the participants that didnt have to use willpower previously (cookie eaters) lasted 19 minutes more trying to solve the puzzle than the participants that had to use willpower initially (radish eaters)

  • Q: Will exercising willpower muscles make them stronger the same way using dumbbells strengthen biceps?

  • A: Experiments proved that as people strengthened their willpower muscles in one part of their lives - in the gym, or a money management program - that strength spilled over into what they ate or how hard they worked. Once willpower became stronger, it touched everything.

  • "That's why signing kids up for piano lessons or sports is so important. It has nothing to with creating a good musician or a soccer star - its about learning to force yourself to practice for an hour or run fifteen laps, you can start building self-regulatory strength."

  • Those that were able to keep up with habits through research studies were those who were able to anticipate what negative cues they were going to face or might prevent them from working out. Physical rehab patients thought through what would prevent them from doing exercise and those that did were statistically much higher to complete their exercise.

  • The patients who didn't write out any plans were at a significant disadvantage, because they never thought ahead about how to deal with painful inflection points.

  • Howard Schultz - CEO of Starbucks says he was able to come from the Brooklyn projects and a first gen college person because his mom helped him set goals at an early age. She would say: "How are you going to study tonight? What are you going to do tomorrow? How do you know you're ready for your test?"

  • "When people are asked to do something that takes self-control, if they think they are doing it for person reasons - if they feel like it's a choice or something they enjoy because it helps someone else - it's much less taxing" "If they feel they have no autonomy their willpower muscles get tired much faster"

  • Research Study: "Asking individuals in a room to not eat cookies, half the group was asked nicely and explains the reason was to test temptation, other half was just told not to eat them. The half that was told why and asked nicely performed the willpower puzzle much better

  • Times of crisis are the best time to reflect on what bad habits led up to the crisis happening. Always use a crisis as an opportunity to improve to become even better than before (e.g. GFC and all the shares that arose to create a long bull market after)

  • Q: Why do grocery stores put fruits and vegetables at the entrance of all grocery stores?

  • It makes more sense to put them near the cashier since they tend to bruise the easiest, however scientists have found that if customers load up on healthy things first they are more likely to justify buying junk food after

  • Retailers also place products at random on shelves (e.g. Cereal) as opposed to alphabetical order to that consumers need to spend more time looking at products and potentially having something else catch their eye to buy as well

  • Scientists studies that more than 50% of purchasing decisions occured at the moment a customer saw a product on the shelf despite shoppers bringing shopping lists to the grocery store . Their habits were stronger than their written intentions

  • Research found however that: "People's buying habits are more likely to change when they go through a major life event"

  • The biggest life event and where most people's habits change is the arrival of a child. As a result, new parents' habits are more flexible at that moment than any other moment in their adult life. So for companies, pregnant women are gold mines.

  • This is why Walt Disney Company, provides gifts to mothers in 580 hospitals across the US. Proctor & Gamble, Fisher-Price and other firms have similar giveaway programs

  • Despite what our conscious thinks our subconscious prefers to listen to songs we are familiar with and have a familiar tune as we expect for that genre

  • Research Study: Measured what songs people change the radio channel to and despite not liking a band or artist (e.g. Celine Dion or Maroon 5) listeners didnt change the channel cause the tunes felt familiar

  • When you want to introduce someone to something new you need to first package it as something they are familiar with

    • E.g. When the government wanted to get citizens to eat animal organs given the shortage of animal meats in 1940s they suggested housewives to cook it into existing meals and the uptick was significant

  • In order to get "Hey Ya" by Outkast familiar the producers had radio stations sandwich it in between two familiar and sticky songs to gain that familiarity and recognition to "Hey Ya"

Part Three - The Habits of Societies

  • "Weak ties" are friends of friends - people who were neither strangers nor close pals

  • Research proved that weak-tie acquaintances were often more important than strong-tie friends because weak ties give us access to social networks where we don't otherwise belong

  • Close friends we talk to quite a bit, read and look at the same information by the time they hear of a new opportunity we have probably already heard about it too - weak ties show us opportunities we otherwise would never heart about

  • "Individuals with few weak ties will be deprived of information from distant parts of the social system and will be confined to the news and views of close friends"

  • What has allowed activists to raise momentum and compel protests is peer pressure through weak ties. Its the sense of obligation that neighborhoods or communities place upon themselves

  • Research study: When looking at why an initial group of 1000 that signed up to risk their lives to help with voter reform during the civil rights moment only ended up with 300 people actually going it was social pressure that forced them to go. It wasn't their motives or that many felt they had more to lose if they were married or had a family.

    • People whose friends decided to go ended up feeling a social pressure to go as well.

    • People were essentially worried their social standing within their group / community would fall if they backed out

    • In the research study those that belonged to a religious group every single one of them ended up continuing to go on the journey showing the power of the social pressure of that religious group

  • A habit is not a long-term habit or sustainable if its one person leading the charge. The community needs to contribute towards the system in order for it to become a habit and it to be scalable

    • Ex. The Pastor leading the church solo and burning out and the moment he allowed people to host their own sermons it became more of a community given they had ownership and accountability in the broader community now

Changing Habits Framework

  • Identify the routine

  • Write in detail the steps that you took to do that habit E.g. eating a cookie every afternoon

  • Get a craving in the afternoon, check clock, get up from desk, go for a walk and socialize with coworkers, get a coffee and a cookie, eat cookie at desk while working

  • Experiment with rewards

    • What reward are you looking for from the habit

    • Is it the socialization with coworkers? The energy from the walk? The energy from the sugar? Are you actually hungry?

    • Write down what you feel right in three words after you've done the habit you want to change: "relaxed" "laughter" "not hungry"

    • After 15 minutes see if you still have that craving for that habit

    • After 15 minutes if you still want to get up then making the craving isn't hunger its socialization

    • "By experimenting with different rewards, you can isolate what you are actually craving, which is essential in redesigning the habit"

  • Isolate the cue

  • Researchers determined that when the environmental cues are friendly e.g a friendly cop, witnesses are more likely to misremember facts to try and please the police officer

  • The researchers were able to identify this by removing all the other noise in the data by reviewing tapes and only focusing on three categories of behaviour. Our lives are the say way, which is why its hard to identify cues

  • Questions to help identify cues:

    • Where are you?

    • What time is it?

    • Whats your emotional state?

    • Who else is around?

    • What action preceded the urge?

  • Have a plan

    • Ensure to create a detailed plan to change the habit once the cue is identified

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