Once you see everything as a bunch of habits, it’s like someone gave you a flashlight and a crowbar and you can get to work.
We want to be healthy, do well at work, and have positive relationships with family and friends. Every year, we resolve to do better and be better, and for a while we eat well, exercise, and work hard without social media distractions. But then…
Charles Duhigg describes this cycle as the habit loop. Our brain automates our actions, the positive and negative ones. So despite our strong desire to change, we’re fighting against an automatic process. Duhigg breaks this down into three-steps. First, there’s the cue, then the routine, and, finally, there is a reward.
Habits are powerful, but delicate. They can emerge outside our consciousness, or can be deliberately designed. They often occur without our permission, but can be reshaped by fiddling with their parts. They shape our lives far more than we realize—they are so strong, in fact, that they cause our brains to cling to them at the exclusion of all else, including common sense.
For example, at 2:00 pm every day, you feel bored and a little tired (this is the cue). Your routine is to grab a cookie and chat with some friends either in person or on social media. The reward is that you feel stimulated (via the sugar and conversation) and energetic. But maybe you’re trying to lose weight and want to cut out that cookie. You must change the routine. Are you actually hungry for food or for conversation or both? Changing the routine requires exploration into your routine, discovering if that routine provides the reward you’re subconsciously seeking.
Duhigg backs up his explanations with fascinating research studies and examples from real-life habit conquerors. Instead of a dry scientific work, it’s a fast and enlightening read. Particularly interesting and disturbing is the example of how Target can (and has) determine(d) if a woman is pregnant before she’s even told her family. (Seriously. Read this one)
Knowing how our brains work is powerful. We can use the habit loop to implement what we know to be right, even in reactions to our coworkers and family members. Do you have a coworker or family member who drives you crazy? Do you react poorly to this person? You can’t change the cue, but you can change your routine.
The Power of Habit is not a self-help book per se but Duhigg does conclude with some concrete steps to figure out your particular cue, routine, and reward — and how to change the routine effectively. You must identify the routine, experiment with rewards, isolate the cue, and have a plan. Essentially, “Know Thyself.”
Purchase The Power of Habit.