The Power of Habits

A habit is a practice that is done as a way for the brain to save effort. It would not be fun to have to relearn or make a conscious decision on something as simple as tying shoes. For kids just learning how to tie their shoes, it takes some mental effort, but once it is a habit, they do not need to think, they do it automatically. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business proves that habits are much more than mindless activities like tying shoes. This book by Charles Duhigg explains, through stories of people and businesses, 3 ideas: “The Habit Loop”, “The Golden Rule of Habit Change”, and “Keystone Habits”. The first one, “The Habit Loop”, is the basis of all habits.

“The Habit Loop” what forms a habit. It starts with a cue: the location, feeling, sound, place, thoughts, anything that triggers the habit. The actual habit is the routine, or the action taking place. It can even be an emotion, reacting to something in the same way each time it happens. Those lead to the reward, “… which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future”(Duhigg, 19). The reward can be a literal object like food or a sense of completion. If this outcome is enticing enough, it is what the brain eventually craves to get when the cue is present. Now this may seem simple at first, but when trying to find the cues and rewards it gets complicated. This is because habits that we do not think about, have been there for a long time, and when it comes to changing them, we must look back to when they started.

The Power of Habit tells many stories and this fast food one relates directly to this. When it is late, driving home and there is a sense of tiredness and urgency. Instead of cooking a meal at home, stop at a Mcdonald’s for a quick and tasty(for some people) but unhealthy dinner for around 5 dollars. It would only be one time, but then, a year later you think of what you did last time you were tired and hungry on your way home, so you do it again. Then it goes to every couple of months, each month, each week, until it happens on a day-to-day basis, and the side effects kick in. The brain started putting together the loop of cue, routine, and reward after the first couple of times, and before realization, a new habit is formed. At that point there may not be sleepiness and the look for a way to skip the hassle of cooking dinner, but the brain may trigger the practice simply by just driving near the restaurant since it is on the way home. Once the side effects of unhealthy eating kick in, change is surely the thing to do.

“The Golden Rule of Habit Change” is obviously how to change the habits that were formed. Most people think to stop a habit they should just try to resist it all they can, but eventually they will give in, even if it is not a conscious decision. Sometimes you can never get rid of the things that trigger habits, especially the cues like emotions. So the real way the change habits is to keep the same cue and reward, but change the routine. “You can’t extinguish a bad habit, you can only change it”(Duhigg, 62). Since the brain really just craves the reward when the cue is present, it makes sense to change the thing that the brain does without effort. In order to change the routine, find the cue first, then the reward, by experimenting and taking notes on when the urge or action takes place. An example used in the book was by Coach Tony Dungy of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers NFL team. He became the head coach of the Buccaneers in 1996 with the mission to use this rule of habit change to lead his team to victory. He told his players to keep all the old cues to look for, but change what they do after the initial reaction. Like the stance of the opposing player and what the routine will be based on where he thinks the player will go. Powerful businesses are the ones that create a culture among their workers, focused on just one habit.

One custom that everything revolves around is called a “Keystone Habit.” This is one idea that is focused most on, and creates a culture and a structure for other habits to roll out.For an individual this could be something like making the bed every morning, it gives a sense of completion and relief to carry right from the morning, to late at night. In a group, alliances form between people because they all have one thing to focus on. The example from the book is the aluminum manufacturing company Alcoa, that makes everything from Hershey’s Kisses wrappers to vehicle wheels. The newly elected CEO Paul O’Neill came into the company with one goal: to have absolutely no work-induced injuries on property. He made safety into the keystone and habit, and from that, the workers began to create a good community, where they would share ideas for the company and get to work earlier. Most of all, they ultimately enjoyed working more because they did not have problems when a difficult decision arose, they just relied on the new safety precaution habits, and fought through the tough problem.

Habits control a majority of our everyday lives, without us even noticing it. This book has led me to being mindful of these routines, and it makes me think why do I do this? Also, I now know how to create a habit. One of the last sequences of The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg explained how to actually implement what was learned in the book. The idea is implementation intention: to set goals for when a certain cue appears and write down when ‘this’ happens, I will do ‘this’. Once habits are understood they can really become a power to use in business, sports, and just everyday life.