The Power of Habit

Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business
by Charles Duhigg

Read:  2016-12-28, Rating:  7/10.

Entertaining and practical introduction breaking down the formation of habits and the three-step habit loop. Long and detailed case examples throughout the book. I will definitely re-read the first couple chapters again.

My Notes:

“In some sense… a community is a giant collection of habits occurring among thousands of people that, depending on how they’re influenced, could result in violence or peace.”

“…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”

“…there’s nothing you can’t do if you get the habits right.”

Larry R. Squire, PhD working with Eugene Pauly (1993) who suffered from viral encephalitis. Generally, affects skin but in rare cases affects the brain. He recovered and was physically OK – able to breathe and eat and walk and talk. A brain scan revealed damage to where his cranium and spinal column met.

Further brain scans revealed that his memory had been removed. EP could speak, then adjust the conversation to something he was comfortable with. EP’s intellect was intact, and all the habits that he had formed in his youth. He knew how to respond to say hello to guests, and drink a glass of water. He was unable to remember anything.

When asked, he couldn’t recall his age, or draw a layout of his house or remember where he lived. He couldn’t point out where the bathroom is, but he could stand up, go to the bathroom, flush, wash his hands, and return.

His wife Beverly took him outside to go for a walk around the block, same route, every morning. One morning, EP went for a walk by himself and returned. EP learned the habit of walking around the block and returning home, despite having no memory to guide him. He had no memory of going for a walk or being alone. Even when asked to not go for a walk, he wouldn’t remember. He couldn’t draw a map of the block, or where his house was on a map.

EP was absorbing new information. But where was it residing? How could he locate his house, when he didn’t know which was his? New behaviour patterns in his damaged brain.

EP could not save new memories, but he could develop new habits.

The most complex thinking occurs in the outside parts of our brains. Deeper inside the brain – older more primitive structures – hold our automatic behaviours such as breathing and swallowing food.

The Basal Ganglia, located in the centre of the skull, is similar to brains of smaller animals. Images of EP showed his Basal Ganglia escaped damage. The basal ganglia recall our habits. Routines are made into habits so the brain saves effort. Basal ganglia system lets habits take over so we can perform routines automatically, unthinkingly.

The chunking process (in psychology or linguistic analysis) group together (connected items or words) so that they can be stored or processed as single concepts.

Brain activity spikes when a chunk of behaviour starts or ends to identify when to start a habit. A cue. A hint to identify which habit to use.

Three step loop

1. Cue – trigger for brain to go into automatic mode
2. Routine – physical mental or emotional
3. Reward – to determine if loop worth remembering

Over time the loop becomes more automatic. Cue and reward become intertwined. Once we crave the reward, a habit is born. When a habit emerges, the brain stops fully participating.

Patterns unfold automatically unless an effortful change is made. Habits never disappear, they stay in the brain. But the brain can’t differentiate between good and bad habits. So even bad habits are waiting for cues. Once we have a routine on the couch, the pattern remains forever. We need new routines to overpower bad tendencies.

“Champions don’t do extraordinary things. They do ordinary things, but they do them without thinking, too fast for the other team to react. They follow the habits they’ve learned.” – Tony Dungy

Instead of creating new habits, change old habits. Attack the Cue-Routine-Reward loop because it is easier to adopt a new behaviour to a familiar cue and reward. Attack the routine.

Alcoholism is a physical addiction with psychology or genetic roots. Alcoholics Anonymous side steps medical and psychological studies. AA attacks habits that surround alcoholism. AA succeeds because it helps alcoholics use the same cues and get the same rewards but shifts the routine.

Golden Rule of Habit Change: The cues and rewards stayed the same. Focus on changing the routine

To keep the change, we must believe that change happens. We don’t need traumatic experiences to change. We could get similar results by joining groups to help us believe change is possible. Change is easier with a group helping each other.

Keystone Habits – which habits matter most

“I intend to make Alcoa the safest company in America. I intend to go for zero injuries.”- Paul O’Neill

Safety – Zero Injuries

Attack one habit and watch the changes ripple through the organization. Disrupting some habits matter more than others, when remaking lives, or entire companies, organizations, over time transforms everything.

Improved safety means better processes, better machines, prevent spills, and more care taken. Better machines are safer and make better quality outputs. After becoming accustomed to providing safety recommendations, employees openly recommended efficiency improvements too.

Keystone habits encourage change – by creating structures for other habits to flourish. Find small wins – structures where change is contagious. Small wins have enormous power, small advantages. Small wins put into place more small wins.

O’Neill always asked more questions, until he got to root cause.

Exercise improves daily routines, affect other patterns such as diet, motivation, smoke less, buy less, less stressed. Exercise is a keystone habit for personal change.

Willpower (self-discipline) is the single most important keystone habit for individual success. Self-Discipline can be taught as a habit. Willpower isn’t a skill. It’s a muscle.

Starbucks Example:
Deliver positive energy with each serving. Put aside personal problems – demonstrate self-constraint – to deliver fantastic customer service.

Often times, employees are learning from their first work experience. It can be overwhelming. Starbucks had new employee programs filled with educational sessions and workbooks to understand self-discipline.

LATTE system
Listen to the customer
Acknowledge their complaint
Take action to resolve the problem
Thank the customer for bringing the situation to their attention
Explain the customer why the problem occurred

What What Why – “What they did, What they need to do, and Why that better method ties in with everything we do.”

Connect Discover Respond

Mothers Parenting Example:
– you will be the first to go to college
– you will be a professional
– you will make us all proud
– ask how are you going to study tonight?
– what are you going to do tomorrow?
– how do you know you’re ready for your test?

If you tell them they have what it takes to succeed, they will prove you right.

Give others a sense of agency, sense of control, improved how much self-discipline to their jobs.

Addictions (drinking, smoking, gambling) are habits as well

After losing everything from gambling, gamblers will say they lost everything out of habit.

There are differences in neurological functions between normal people and pathological gamblers. MRI shows that pathological gamblers are more excited when then win. MRI also show that gamblers also experience highs for near misses. But when normal people see near miss, they identify the trick and they know they should quit.

Society has determined that if we follow our habits rooted in our basal ganglia unconsciously (eg. sleep terrors), we are not responsible for our actions. But the same defense cannot be taken for when we are conscious of our habits, our additions.

Habits even once rooted in our minds, aren’t destiny. We can choose our habits, once we know how. Any of them can be changed if you know how they function.

Hundreds of habits influence our days. Each with a different cue and offers a unique reward. To modify a habit, you must decide to change it, you must consciously accept the hard work of identifying the cues and rewards to drive the habits routines and find alternatives.

Once you know a habit exists, you have the responsibility to change it. Habits that we know exist, and 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.

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