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THE POWER OF HABIT – CHARLES DUHIGG BOOK REVIEW

Habits, we all know we have them. The problem is most people have absolutely no idea how to change them.

In 1892, the psychologist, William James wrote, “All our life, so far as it has definite form, is but a mass of habits” .

A duke university researcher published a paper in 2006 stating that more than 40% of the actions people perform each day are not actual decisions…They are habits.

I’ve always been fascinated by how the school system doesn’t prepare someone for real life.  If over 40% of our actions are habits, wouldn’t that be a good idea to teach in schools how to change them?

 

The problem with habits is that most of them were created without you knowing about it. You were not conscious of it and they now control your life.

This is why most of the time people that come from a poor family become poor also. Of course there are other reasons, and there are 

habitspeople who become wealthy even though they come from poverty, but in general people in a social class tend to stay in that social class.

Why?  It is because by hanging out with a group of people, you start to think the way they do and you start to act the way they do. You pick up their habits unconsciously.

I come from a poor family and the way I learned how to make a lot of money is by reading books written by successful people. By doing that, I learned to think like them.

Now that I know how to think like a successful person and I know the recipe for success, the only thing I need to do is execute, right?

This is where it becomes complicated. Someone can know exactly WHAT TO DO and not do it. DOING IT is the hardest part. Why? Because your brain is wired in a certain way and it is really hard to change how it works. How many times have you heard someone say: I quit smoking! Just to see the person smoke again a few days later?

That person KNOWS it needs to stop smoking, but DOING IT is much harder.  This is why I always smile when people say that knowledge is power. Yes it is true to a certain extent, but the ABILITY TO TAKE ACTION is way more important.

One of the best books out there on how to change your habits is The Power of habit by Charles Duhigg. Here is a resume of it with key insights.

What are habits? Habits are basically choices that we all make deliberately at some point in our life and then stop thinking about them but continue doing, often every day.

So at first it was a CHOICE, but then we STOPPED making a choice because it became all automatic. This is how our brain works and by understanding in details how it happens, we can reverse engineer those patterns and rebuild them in whichever way we choose.

So why do we form habits?

“Habits, scientists say, emerge because the brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort. Left to its own devices, the brain will try to make almost any routine into a habit, because habits allow our minds to ramp down more often. This effort-saving instinct is a huge advantage. An efficient brain also allows us to stop thinking constantly about basic behaviors, such as walking and choosing what to eat, so we can devote mental energy to inventing spears, irrigation systems, and, eventually, airplanes and video games.”

In the book, Duhigg describes in details a series of experiments that were done by researchers from MIT on the science of habit formation.

They were doing these experiments on rats by dropping them into mazes and making them sniff around for chocolate placed at the end.

The goal was to monitor the brain activity in the rats as they moved in the maze. They did that by inserting super tiny micro sensors inside of their brain. By doing this, the researchers were able to determine which parts of the brain would light up when the rats were running through the maze, which would help them understand how the brain forms habits.

At first it seemed like the rats were not doing anything interesting at all. They would start at the beginning, sniff around, scratch the walls a bit, and randomly pause every now and then before moving again through the maze.

Then something really amazing happened…The researchers noticed that each time the rats moved from one end of the maze to the other, they sniffed around way less, they also scratched the walls less, and paused less. Basically, the rats were moving through the maze much faster with each run.

The scientist discovered something amazing: they discovered that the mental activity of the rats DECREASED with each successful navigation through the maze. As the route became more automatic, the rats were thinking less about how to go to the end.

This automaticity was made possible by a part of the brain called the basal ganglia, which took over as the rat ran faster and its brain worked less.

The scientists discovered that the basal ganglia was responsible for storing habits in the rats. What is interesting is that the human brain works the same way.

This process is called CHUNKING. While chunking, your brain converts a sequence of actions, like tying your shoes and parking your car into an automatic routine.

Habits exist because your brain is looking for ways to save energy. It is really important that you understand that.

The habit loop: 3 steps to starting or stopping any habits

“This process within our brains 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.”

The ultimate habit formation formula:

Cue+ Routine + Reward = Habit

All the habits in your life exist because of this three-step loop…

  1. The Cue: tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use.
  2. The Routine: Can be physical or mental or emotional…It is something that you do or feel after the cue.
  3. The Reward: helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future.

To illustrate this concept, check out this flowchart that Duhigg offers on his blog:

habit-flowchart2

How to use the habit loop to change your habits.

Want to create better habits in your life in order to become more successful? What you have to do is to find a cue and define the rewards.

“If you want to start running each morning, it’s essential that you choose a simple cue (like always lacing up your sneakers before breakfast or leaving your running clothes next to your bed) and a clear reward (such as a midday treat, a sense of accomplishment from recording your miles, or the endorphin rush you get from a jog). 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.”

The formula is quite simple. The key is to select a good cue, routine and reward. Let’s say that you want to create the habit of going for a run each morning.

  • Choose a cue. It could be to put your running shoes right next to your bed so that you see them first thing in the morning.habit-loop-cue-habit-reward
  • That cue should trigger a routine. In our case, the routine is to put your running shoes first thing in the morning then going for a run.
  • Choose a reward. It could be that you will add two slices of bacon to your breakfast when you do your routine. It could be that you will feel good after the run. You can be creative here…The most important thing when it comes to the reward is that you actually want it. You have to CRAVE and ANTICIPATE that reward if you want this to work.

People that are successful are motivated because their brain is crystal clear on the reward they will get if they execute. This is one of the reasons why children of successful people often become successful also.

They see what kind of cars their parents are driving, they see the kind of house they live in, they are used to that lifestyle. Their brain KNOWS FOR A FACT that it is possible and this is why they tend to take massive action towards their goals. The lifestyle that their parents (and them) live makes it easy for them to CRAVE and ANTICIPATE the reward.

Conclusion

To change a habit, you have to first figure out your habit loop. It is only with awareness that you can change.

Then what you need is a plan. You need to change your current habit loop with a better one. A habit is basically a formula that your brain automatically follows. When you see the CUE, you do a ROUTINE in order to get a REWARD.

It’s time to start making choices again. Up to this point, you were doing this habit loop unconsciously. Now is the time to actually plan something new, something more productive.

You can never truly eliminate a bad habit…To change a habit; you must keep the old cue, deliver the old reward, but insert a new routine. That’s the golden rule…if you use the exact same cue, and provide the same reward; you can shift the routine and change the habit. You can modify almost any of your behaviors if the cue and reward stay the same.

For example I used to smoke a lot, especially when I was going out. The fact is I used to have a lot of social anxiety and going outside of the club (a stressful environment in my case) to smoke was a way for me to relax. I was going outside for a cigarette and I could relax for a while. The cue was the crowd of people, the routine was me going outside for a smoke, and the reward was me relaxing because I was away from all these people.

Once I became aware of that habit loop, I decided to change my routine. Instead of going for a cigarette, I would instead smoke an electronic cigarette (much healthier). The cue (the crowd of people) and the reward (relaxing) were exactly the same, but now my routine was much better in terms of health.

To CREATE a new habit (instead of changing one), you simply have to choose a good cue, a good routine and a good reward. 

Anyways, I highly recommend this book because in the end, the difference between a high achieve and someone that doesn’t achieve a lot in live is a matter of habits. Successful people have good habits. They are not smarter than you, they just have better habits so if right now you are not where you want to be in life, read this book and take charge of your life!

Click Here to get the book!

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