Habits of Power

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

Charles Duhigg

Random House.  2012.  400 pgs.

I read a free download from my public library — and wow, no playing around with due dates on these things!  This was my third attempt to finish an ebook from the library — they usually expire before I can complete them.  Its not as though you can “forget” and pop them in the return bin a few days late…..

Well, one of the habits I need to cultivate is getting back to my reading challenge and my Livritome blog.  I’ve missed it so much!  With school, work, life….it has been tough.  Maybe reading this book will help me kick some of my time wasting habits and get more accomplished.

Once you understand that habits can change, you have the freedom–and the responsibility–to remake them.  Once you understand that habits can be rebuilt, the power of habit becomes easier to grasp, and the only option left is to get to work.

Duhigg, an investigative journalist for the New York Times, takes us for a fascinating exploration of habits — how they are made and re-made — and anchors his study with many powerful examples of both the destructiveness and power of habits.  I found the stories  of true and sometimes famous lives — to be one of the strengths of this book:

  • How the birth of the civil rights movement in Montgomery, Alabama began with a simple refusal of one woman to give up her seat on a bus — but how the power of social habits of church, family and businesses in the African American community were harnessed by leaders such as King, Abernathy and E.D. Nixon to spark an entire social movement.
  • How changing one “keystone” habit like smoking turned one woman’s entire failed life — including many other destructive habits– around.
  • How Alcoholics Anonymous changes the habits around drinking — such as substituting the companionship of a bar for meeting friends at an AA meeting — in order to beat a powerful addiction.

Duhigg discovered that all habits are composed of three elements that work in a loop:

  • A cue, which is a trigger telling your brain to go into automatic mode
  • A routine, which can be physical, mental or emotional.  It might be having a drink, sitting down in front of the television — or it might be destructive feelings or thoughts
  • A reward — which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worthwhile remembering.

If the reward satisfies a powerful need, then a habit is born.  When a habit emerges the brain stops taking deliberate action because it is easier for it to rest and focus on harder tasks.  In a sense, the brain goes on automatic and lets this particular loop take over.  This made total sense to me and explained why I am constantly infuriated at myself for mindlessly eating a bag of M & Ms at 3:00 pm every day — even though I had vowed that morning I wouldn’t do it.

Fighting bad habits must be a very deliberate process.  First, you must have a plan in place to intercept the automatic loop.  For example, I should study my cue, routine, reward loop involving my daily trip to the candy vending machine at 3:00 pm.  What do I need at 3:00 pm — is it a break from my desk, a stimulant, or merely the act of getting up and walking around?  I need to experiment and at 3:00 pm tomorrow get up and visit a friend — or get a cup of coffee — or walk over to the window and look out for a while.  If I can observe my own feelings after trying one of these alternatives and discover I have a new “reward” I can use that new routine in place of the M & M routine.  A new, better habit will be formed!

Sometimes change takes a long time.  Sometimes it requires repeated experiments and failures.  But once you understand how a habit operates — once you diagnose the cue, the routine and the reward — you gain power over it.

A great read and one that made me realize how much more deliberately I need to be living.

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