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The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

The Power of Habit
by Charles Duhigg

It turns out that 40% of the stuff you do everyday, aren’t decisions you make but habits you’ve made. (xvi)   How you get dressed? What you do after work? Passing time at work? What happens at dinner time? How you wake up? This is a scary thought for some of us. I don’t like to think that eating a bowl of ice cream instead of a couple miles run after work is a choice that I have made a couple times, but it is actually a habit that I am now stuck in. Like he ancient Chinese proverb says: “If you cut wood and haul water for 21 days, after 21 days you will cut wood and haul water.” Have you ever wondered why McDonalds makes the fries the way they do?  Did you know that Target knows if your pregnant and when your due?  Did you know habits make OutKast’s song “Hey Ya” a hit?  Creating habits is something that we do regularly. Charles Duhigg wrote his book The Power of Habit in effort to explain why we do the things we do in the manner that we do them. Duhigg has done incredible research in this area and written a very engaging book. His thesis is well supported and well articulated. His book is layed out in three sections.

In section 1 of the book, Duhigg begins by explaining the habits of people. He starts his journey of understanding by explaining the region of the brain where habits reside: the basal ganglia. The three-fold loop of habits, as described in the book, is: (1) Cue; (2) Routine; (3) Reward. The cue is the trigger that begins the cycle. It’s the advertisement that makes you want to buy something or the smell of coffee that kicks your caffeine drive on. The Routine is our physical, emotional, or mental process that is our response to the cue. The reward determines whether the habit is worth remembering. If you get poked in the eye at the end of something, you probably wouldn’t repeat it right? The author found that our habits are very delicate (meaning they fall apart with out the cues) but are very powerful (to the point we will follow them even against common sense!). But even the structure of the habit loop isn’t the key, but the expectation/cravings. When you begin to expect the reward, to crave the reward, is when you begin to manufacture the habits. But the overcoming of habit, isn’t dependent upon changing the cues or the rewards, but the routine (this is the Golden Rule of Habit change). According to Duhigg’s study, only in learning new routines to replace the old and belief, that a habit loop change.

In section 2, the author examines the habits of organizations. In the same way that individuals form habits, organizations create cultures of cue, routine, and reward. He looks first at the keystone habits of organizations. These are the habits that every other habit draws back too. These habits, when altered start to dislodge and remake other patterns. To discover keystone habits, it is vital to look for: (1) finding small wins – what do we do well to leverage for more; (2) finding what disciplines keep us accountable – what helps other habits flourish; (3) what in our culture (habits) need to change – what tough decisions need to be made. With these keystone habits, a plan is needed to engage before the cue ever arrives, like a conscious decision to continue prior to pain presenting on a 5 mile run or a plan to stand up the moment your alarm rings, to avoid hitting the snooze button…Starbucks, interestingly, implements much of this in their training. But a plan often only comes about after a crisis. John Ortberg wrote an article a few years back titled “Don’t Waste a Crisis” and that is the point of this chapter. Keystone habits often need a crisis to enact change. A time of crisis often provides the leverage to make changes to ingrained/keystone habits. If a time of crisis, a major change, is the catalyst to create new habits, the story of why Target knows your pregnant was a fascinating study of how companies are taking advantage of crisis, change, to make a living.  Companies/Churches habits tell more about their success than any other information.

The final section takes a look at the habits of societies. Studying the culture at Saddleback Community Church and the Montgomery Bus Boycotts, Duhigg has looked at how movements penetrate society and ultimately change culture. Starting with the connections of friendship (e.g. Rosa Park and he close friends), moving into the habits of a community (neighbors and clans), and finally enduring because of self-replication throughout the community. During this time Duhigg explores the way we connect with the people around us (weak and strong ties). Our strong ties are our close friends, who generally have the same interests and lifestyles that we do. Our weak ties are the people that we see once every six months, that might not share the same economic status, race, beliefs, or interests we do. Rick Warren utilized these “habits” to grow Saddleback to its mega-church status. Using the strong ties of small groups, they grow the weak ties of Sunday morning, where they teach a self-replication process to their people. The book finishes off with an ethical question. Based upon his research, the stories told, the science behind habits, and the study of why we do what we do…the question is raise: Are we really responsible for our actions or are we a product of our habits? From gambling debt, murder, fraud, and countless other things, are we to blame or our habits…it was a fascinating way to end the book!

The strength of the Power of Habit was the research and the scientific methodology contained within the book. It was a powerfully written lay-scientific expose on the habits and patterns that we construct. From Tony Dungy turning around the Tampa Bay Bucs, to why Target knows your pregnant, from Starbucks stories, to why McDonalds cooks their french-fries the way they do, this book contained stories that were incredibly written and communicated. This was an awesome read, a great book for leaders and teams. If you are looking for a book to challenge the way you think, to help you change the habits you have or just understand why you do the things you do, this book is a must read.


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