New York Times business reporter, Charles Duhigg examines what habits are, their importance and how to change them so anyone can change their life or business. He explains why some people and companies are able to change their habits, when others cannot. He marries science and storytelling to demonstrate how in every aspect of society around the world-from parenting, to product design, to leading successful social movements the ability to change everyday behaviors is the bedrock of success.
My key Takeaways from “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business" by Charles Duhigg
Takeaway #1 How Habits Are Formed
Our brain turns a sequence of actions into an automatic return through 'chunking' this allows our brain to save energy and perform common, reoccurring tasks easily and efficiently without having to think about it. It all happens in the basal ganglia, a small neurological structure that's embedded in our brain.
It's a 3 step process:
1. An external cue creates a spike of brain activity as it finds the appropriate action for the occasion.
2. When you're used to performing this habit when faced with the cue (I.e when your alarm goes off you jump up and brush your teeth or put the coffee on) you have a routine in place and do the task pretty much on autopilot.
3. Your brain acknowledges the successful completion of the task (connecting the cue with the habit) with a reward. You might not associate the task with a treat as such but your brain knows that the reward for brushing your teeth is the minty clean feeling.
Takeaway #2 Why do some habits stick but others don't?
Habits are so resilient that even if you have brain damage, so long as the basal ganglia is undamaged, your habits remain. However, the brain doesn't know the difference between good habits and bad habits which is why it can be so difficult to kick smoking or eating sugary food due to the brain kicking in with the cue and old behavior as it seeks that reward.
The trick to changing a bad habit to a good one is not just to change or remove the cue and the action that follows but to manipulate the craving - Don't ignore it or resist it, change it. If you're trying to lose weight but got into the habit of stopping off at the bakery on the way home from work you might alter your behavior by going to the gym straight after instead. Your brain will still get the feel-good reward of endorphins but it'll be through exercise rather than a sweet treat.
Takeaway #3 Creating Keystone Habits
Keystone habits are the ones that are most important as they create a positive knock-on effect in other areas of your life and must be instilled if you want to make a broad change in your lifestyle. Basic keystone habits such as always walking up stairs rather than taking the elevator or keeping a food diary both create small habits which lead on to big life-changing habits of being fit and eating healthily.
How do you make sure you stick to the keystone habits? Willpower. But willpower comes and goes as we all know... Some days you'll be all fired up to get to the gym, other days you can't get enough energy or motivation to get up off the sofa and say 'I'll go tomorrow and workout longer and harder'.
Work on your willpower and you'll be able to successfully create all the other habits you want to have.
Being told or forced to do something will weaken your willpower so make it a choice, can you do the action before being asked? Or bend it to suit your needs? If you know you have a trying situation coming up when your willpower will be low, plan for it – Go to the birthday party having eaten a healthy meal before and take along healthy snacks to add to the buffet. Take responsibility for your willpower and habits, don't slip back to old ways because you blame the host for only provided unhealthy options at the party!
Takeaway #4 The Power To Change
Surround yourself with people who are trying to form the same habit you are, get a friend or work colleague plus a family member to join you in losing weight so that you have support at work and at home and make friends at the gym who already have those healthy habits happening automatically.
Finally, take responsibility – Don't blame your actions on the habit saying it's not your fault.