Warning: Habits May Be Good for You

Why we do what we do in life and business?

I might read more about scientific discoveries than about any other subject. This one explains why habits exist and how they can be changed. If you want to read just one book about transforming your life The Power of Habit is probably the best choice. Once you read this book, you’ll never look at yourself, or the world quite the same way.

Charles Duhigg is a award-winning New York Times business reporter. He visited laboratories where neuroscientists explore how habits work and where, exactly, they reside in our brains. The result of his work is a fascinating cutting-edge research that gives you real insight into how human nature and unmediated learning works.

40 to 45% of the decisions we make everyday aren’t actually decisions. They’re habits. Our brains are kind turned off when the habit loop comes on:

Every habit has three components: 1) Cue: the automatic trigger for behaviour to start. 2) Routine: the behaviour itself. 3) Reward: what makes our brains remember that pattern for the future.

If you want to change a habit, the first thing you’d have to do is to identify the cue and the reward. Then keep the cue, provide the same reward and insert a new routine.

For example, if you have the bad habit of drinking, identify what’s the main reason that keeps you from quitting. Most of the times, alcoholics pick up a bottle because that’s how they automatically deal with anxiety. Once they learned alternate routines for dealing with stress, the habit stopped for good.

AA’s success seems to be due to the fact that their system of meetings and companionship strives to offer as much escape and distraction as a Friday night bender. Keep the cue, provide the same reward and insert a new routine:

The right habits were crucial to the success of Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, and civil-rights hero Martin Luther King, Jr. Also companies like Procter & Gamble and Target.

Also people are more likely to exercise regularly, lose weight, become more productive, and achieving success if they bootstrap their brains into believing with those rewards they genuinely enjoy.

For example, there’s The Marshmallow Test research at Stanford where four-year-olds were in a room with a marshmallow in front of them. The kids were allowed to eat it. But, if after 10 minutes the marshmallow is still there, then they could get a second marshmallow.

The results were astonishing: good impulse control turned out to be a predictor of success, from academic results to health in later life. Because when kids learn habits for delaying their cravings, they truly enjoy their reward and those habits spill over to other parts of life.

Obviously, changing some habits can be difficult. Sometimes it requires repeated experiments and failures. But with time and effort, almost any habit can be reshaped. Once you understand how a habit operates — diagnose the cue, the routine and the reward — making the good habit automatic, you gain power over it.

After you finish this book I have no doubt that, like me, you’ll want to change all your bad habits in order to live a better life!