As a reporter in Afghanistan, Charles Duhigg observed the power of habit in successful military operations. He used these observations as an entry into his 2012 New York Times bestseller The Power of Habit. The book demonstrates in great detail the science behind how habits impact every aspect of our daily lives. Here are the 13 key insights from The Power of Habit:
To create lasting change, it’s more effective to target our habits.
Almost 40 percent of our actions each day are the result of habits, not decisions. Scientists have found that the replacement of just one set of neurological patterns can overhaul them all.
Habits emerge without our consent. To save energy, the brain creates a habit loop that looks for a trigger to cue a behavior.
To form a habit loop, the brain first looks for a cue, a trigger that tells your brain when to begin the next element, the routine. Of course, this routine won’t stick without a reward, which reinforces to your brain that the habit loop is worth it.
Cravings are what drive habits and are the key to most successful advertising campaigns.
When a habit loop is formed, we begin to crave the reward at the end. The anticipation of the reward can begin to introduce the same feeling.
Any change can occur with the right framework.
By identifying the routine that makes up a habit, you can figure out what craving the habit is actually trying to fill. For example, Charles Duhigg found that his craving for a cookie in the afternoon was actually just a craving for the socialization the cafeteria provided.
You can replace old habits with new ones by shifting routines, but only belief will keep you from relapsing.
Everyone relapses to old habits in times of stress but the key to to not ditching your new habits completely is the belief that you can stick to them.
Strong keystone habits can have unexpected and wide-reaching effects.
Habits are contagious and just changing a few key ones, like substituting an apple for a cookie, can lead to a larger lifestyle overhaul.
Small successes are the building blocks of bigger wins.
Scientist aren’t sure exactly why, but small changes often have a ripple effect. Research shows that people who work out just once a week also begin to eat healthier, too.
Willpower can be learned. It needs exercise, like a muscle.
Throughout the day, our willpower gets exhausted. It’s why we’re more likely to cave in to bad cravings at dinner or why most extramarital affairs begin after work. Just like our muscles, willpower needs to be gradually trained to get stronger.
Organizational habits evolve from the collective habits of employees, not from rational decisions.
Routines are necessary for work to get done, but when all parties aren’t willing to join in on the truce, it can create toxic habits. Crises provide the perfect time to reevaluate organizational habits because people are more willing to see the need for change.
Good leaders embrace crises as moments for change
Rather than immediately trying to defuse a crisis, a good leader extends the moment to catalyze important institutional changes. Good leaders consider the opinions of others in their organization but are also able to drive important goals to the forefront of the agenda. Crises are the moments when others are generally most open to change.
Rather than create new habits, companies can use data to sell their products by taking advantage of our old habits.
Whether we realize it or not, we tend to be creatures of habit in our shopping. Over time, patterns develop in our shopping habits that describe what we like to buy — as well as possible upcoming changes. For example, Target figured out that an uptick in buying scented lotion meant a female customer was almost surely pregnant. By identifying these habits, retailers can make sure to expose us to the right products to increase their profits.
Weak ties provide us important social information.
Our weak social ties are often more important than our close ones. While close friends are usually exposed to the same new information as we are (such as jobs), people we have less strong ties usually have access to information we don’t.
Even with conditioning, will power has a strong basis in neurology.
Scientists have found that some people have a neurological predisposition to addictions. Gamblers see losses as near wins so they don’t quit while they’re behind. However, even with those neurological disadvantages, once a habit is identified, it’s the responsibility of the holder to change it. Even the strongest habits can be modified over time.