The Power of Habit

Habits die hard is a very popular saying, and a very true one too. But what happens if these habits are what are stopping you from being happy, achieving your goal, you know you want it, but are stuck in a cycle of endless disarray. What do you do in that case?book cover

Recently Charles Duhigg wrote a book called “The power of Habits”. He diagnosed Habits, how powerfully they influence our lives, and if and how can they be altered or broken.  The book starts out with an examination of habit at an individual level; the minute details from neurology to its psychology are studied here. Second how organization strategized to influence habits of people around the globe to introduce new products. Third part talks about the ethnicity of habits.

How do habits work?

Have you noticed how when you first start out doing something new, its takes a lot of concentration and effort to get it done, like for the first time when you learned to back you car out, it took a lot of concentration to get it done, but after a while, it became so automatic you didn’t even have to think about it twice? That’s because after trying to do it repeatedly you brain stored the pattern and formed a habit!

Take another example, while learning a new language how you can’t form a sentence and you read bit by bit to make sense? And after a few days, suddenly you are making sentences, spotting new patterns in the language? Sound familiar?

That is because brain turns a sequence of actions into automatic routine also called chunking and it’s at the core of a habit. This happens due to an instinct to save effort. Our brain forms habits to conserve effort and become more efficient.the habit loop

But how does the brain form habits? Why are certain behavior habits and some of them not? Even when some of them started out the same. Let’s try and explore that..

Once a habit is formed, the brain associates certain cues with it, and when encountered with these cue, the brain kicks off the associated habit. It works in a three piece system. The brain spots the “cue”, and signal to produce the automatic behavior, then there is “routine”, which can be emotional, physical or mental and finally in the end of it there is “reward”, which helps brain figure out whether this loop is worth remembering or not.

That’s the loop of habit. CueàRoutineàReward.

With time, these habits become more and more automatic.

The only problem with habits is that, the part of the brain “basal ganglia” that stores habits can’t tell between good and bad, it only thinks about cues and rewards. It doesn’t think long term, only about forming patterns that bring back instant gratification. But now that the habit loop is familiar to you, you can spot it next time you fall into the habit you are trying to kick.


The craving mind

Before one can break into an old habit and create a new one, one must understand why habits die hard!

This is because when the sequence of CueàRoutineàReward is initiated, the routine is usually associated with set of behaviors that produce the reward.  Once a habit is formed, the brain automatically anticipates reward, and in absence of it, gets agitated and upset. All this happens at the subconscious level and hard to diagnose as well. But once you recognize a pattern, you can start working on it bit by bit. This is also one of the reason, alcoholics in the AA meeting, repeat they are alcoholics; it is a lot overriding an old habit of denying it.

The golden rule of habit change

The researchers behind this book studied many groups and successful organizations. One of them was AA, it’s a widely popular and successful therapy groups to help people overcome the addiction or habit! The AAs are not a group of professional, but ordinary people, getting together, what makes it so successful? The AAs use the golden rule of habit change. Alcoholics are encouraged to recognize their addiction, with their cues and routines.  Once their habit loop is recognized, instead of changing the habit, they override it with a newer routine.  For example if one turned to alcoholic to escape emotional distress or boredom, as soon as this person receives the cue to consume alcohol, he can instead turn to his meeting for the respective reward. And slowly, the habit is overridden with newer productive patterns.

The same process can be applied to any habit. Once you have recognized the pattern, just stay aware of the next time it is cued in, and then try to distract yourself with a newer, healthier habit.

Keystone habits

Charles Duhigg talks about keystones habit in this book. He has compared the start of a keystones habit to have the same effect as minor victories. Like minor victories can have a big effect on the perception of our abilities. It’s the same as that.

alcohol annoymous

Keystone habits are the ones that cue in most of the actions we take in our life. For example, Steve Jobs’ keystone habit could be his love for design, internal or external, and hence he created apple, lived a certain way. Keystone habit has the ability to inspire others, cue in the same habit in everyone who comes in contact with it.

The one way to change your life for better is to recognize your keystone habit, or call it your outlook on life, figure out why this behavior is being cued in. Override it with a newer routine. Habits do die hard, but believing in your ability to change can help you achieve your desired habits.


When willpower becomes automatic

Have you ever wondered why some days you have energy to go to the gym after work, come back shower, cook a healthy meal at home and then read some before you sleep. And on some days, you don’t even want get out of bed? And you thought you were a disciplined person.

Charles Duhigg explains that willpower is like a muscle, just like any other muscle of your body, one must work it out to get gain strength. On some days, when you have had a tough day at work, you come home, although, you haven’t done any work after that meeting, you still can’t find the willpower to go to the gym or resist that take out. You give in.

The book suggests you work your willpower out. For example, when your alarm goes off in the morning, wake up, don’t hit the snooze button. Don’t skip breakfast. Avoid the urge to eat donuts with your coffee. Don’t surf the net while you should be working. Doing anything you know you should have the will power to avoid. And eventually this will spill over into other areas of your life, where you will have better control over how you react to situations. It will become a habit.

The Power of a crisis

Charles Duhigg has put a positive spin on the situation of crisis in his book. He talks about how good organizations take these moments of crisis and turn them into opportunity to remake organizational habit.  Since crisis instills a sense of urgency. Same can be applied to people as well. Have you noticed how lessons during crisis almost always stay with you and change you as a person? So next time if you are ever stuck in a place of crisis, just face it. You will probably come out stronger. Avoiding a crisis will only build up stress?

Don’t let up this opportunity to make fundamental changes in the habits that you have. It’s also an opportunity to build a keystone habit.

The familiar

Have you noticed our big corporation know exactly the thing we want and what does it have to do with habit? That is because corporation spend large amount of money to study habits all demographics. Say, for example most pregnant women have the similar buying patterns. This science is called statistics; it’s a way of mathematical mind reading. OK, so what does it have to do with habit, well, these corporations have invested in large researched about what people like. And it turns out, people like familiar things. Our brain craves familiarity, because it’s just like a habit, brain has to expend less effort to make sense of the patterns!

So next time if you want to bring about a change in habit, start with familiar territory. For instance, in your pursuance to become fit, you take trial membership at the gym, start with exercises and machines you are familiar with, you brain will have to expend less effort, and slowly you’ll become habituated of coming to the gym.

How movements happen

There is always a person who wakes in the morning and decides to initiate a change. How does it all start? How does this person have the power to influence everyone else in the group? How do these others become a part of the group in the first place? The leader usually has what socialist call strong ties relationship with most people; it’s a brain trigger that influences the people to join in the group. The weak ties usually face peer pressure to comply with the strong ties, or they anticipate being an outcast.  These strong ties and weak ties behaviors are automated inside the brain, as we are social creatures, and it’s important for our survival to depend on others.

So, it pays to have stronger ties with people around us, our brain has to perceive less threat, process less information and works more efficiently.

Habits made easy

“All our life so far as it has definite form, is but a mass of habits –practical, emotional and intellectual – systematically design for our weal or woe, and bearing us irresistibly toward our destiny, whatever the later maybe”-William James.

Habit 1

Habits are affected by our perception of our world around from early on as toddlers, mostly we pick from our parents, some from friends and tweak these habits on as we grow old and learn some more. According to the Williams James quote our habits are make us what we are on this present day, happy or unhappy, fit or unfit. So a slight shift in a habit can bring about big change in our lives. As small as habit of getting up early in the morning or keeping a vision board can make us think differently thereby affecting our habits.

Now after reading about different aspects of habit according to Charles Duhigg’ book “The Power of Habit”, you should understand the psychology, neurology and sociology behind habits. Once you are aware of the cues, override the routine and reap rewards for a life as you want it.

One thought on “The Power of Habit

  1. Pingback: Changing Habits, Does It Have To Be Hard? - Mutual Spiritual Affinity

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s