The Power of Habit – Charles Duhigg

The power of habit
“We’ve done experiments where we trained rats to run down a maze until it was a habit, and then we extinguished the habit by changing the placement of the reward,” Ann Graybiel, a scientist at MIT who oversaw many of the basal ganglia experiments, told me. “Then one day, we’ll put the reward in the old place, and put in the rat, and, by golly, the old habit will reemerge right away. Habits never really disappear. They’re encoded into the structures of our brain, and that’s a huge advantage for us, because it would be awful if we had to relearn how to drive after every vacation. The problem is that your brain can’t tell the difference between bad and good habits, and so if you have a bad one, it’s always lurking there, waiting for the right cues and

This explains why it’s so hard to create exercise habits, for instance, or change what we eat. Once we develop a routine of sitting on the couch, rather than running, or snacking whenever we pass a doughnut box, those patterns always remain inside our heads. By the same rule, though, if we learn to create new neurological routines that overpower those behaviors—if we take control of the habit loop—we can force those bad tendencies into the background,

Every McDonald’s, for instance, looks the same—the company deliberately tries to standardize stores’ architecture and what employees say to customers, so everything is a consistent cue to trigger eating routines.

Claude C. Hopkins

“I made for myself a million dollars on Pepsodent,” Hopkins wrote a few years after the product appeared on shelves. The key, he said, was that he had “learned the right human psychology.” That psychology was grounded in two basic rules: First, find a simple and obvious cue. Second, clearly define the rewards. If you get those elements right, Hopkins promised, it was like magic. Look at Pepsodent: He had identified a cue—tooth film—and a reward—beautiful teeth—that had persuaded millions to start a daily ritual.

Studies of people who have successfully started new exercise routines, for instance, show they are more likely to stick with a workout plan if they choose a specific cue, such as running as soon as they get home from work, and a clear reward, such as a beer or an evening of guilt-free television.2.13 Research on dieting says creating new food habits requires a predetermined cue—such as planning menus in advance—and simple rewards for dieters when they stick to their intentions.2.14

This explains why habits are so powerful: They create neurological cravings. Most of the time, these cravings emerge so gradually that we’re not really aware they exist, so we’re often blind to their influence. But as we associate cues with certain rewards, a subconscious craving emerges in our brains that starts the habit loop spinning.

To understand the power of cravings in creating habits, consider how exercise habits emerge. In 2002 researchers at New MexicoStateUniversity wanted to understand why people habitually exercise.2.28 They studied 266 individuals, most of whom worked out at least three times a week. What they found was that many of them had started running or lifting weights almost on a whim, or because they suddenly had free time or wanted to deal with unexpected stresses in their lives. However, the reason they continued—why it became a habit—was because of a specific reward they started to crave.

If you want to start running each morning, it’s essential that you choose a simple cue (like always lacing up your sneakers before breakfast or leaving your running clothes next to your bed) and a clear reward (such as a midday treat, a sense of accomplishment from recording your miles, or the endorphin rush you get from a jog). But countless studies have shown that a cue and a reward, on their own, aren’t enough for a new habit to last. Only when your brain starts expecting the reward—craving the endorphins or sense of accomplishment—will it become automatic

That craving is an essential part of the formula for creating new habits that Claude Hopkins, the Pepsodent ad man, never recognized.

After Pepsodent started dominating the marketplace, researchers at competing companies scrambled to figure out why. What they found was that customers said that if they forgot to use Pepsodent, they realized their mistake because they missed that cool, tingling sensation in their mouths. They expected—they craved—that slight irritation. If it wasn’t there, their mouths didn’t feel clean.

Anyone can use this basic formula to create habits of her or his own. Want to exercise more? Choose a cue, such as going to the gym as soon as you wake up, and a reward, such as a smoothie after each workout. Then think about that smoothie, or about the endorphin rush you’ll feel. Allow yourself to anticipate the reward. Eventually, that craving will make it easier to push through the gym doors every day. Want

Cravings are what drive habits.

In order to change a habit, you must keep the old cue, and deliver the old reward, but insert a new routine. That’s the rule: If you use the same cue, and provide the same reward, you can shift the routine and change the habit. Almost any behavior can be transformed if the cue and reward stay the same.

Small wins are exactly what they sound like, and are part of how keystone habits create widespread changes. A huge body of research has shown that small wins have enormous power, an influence disproportionate to the accomplishments of the victories themselves. “Small wins are a steady application of a small advantage,” one Cornell professor wrote in 1984. “Once a small win has been accomplished, forces are set in motion that favor another small win.”4.14 Small wins fuel transformative changes by leveraging tiny advantages into patterns that convince people that bigger achievements are within reach.

Small wins are exactly what they sound like, and are part of how keystone habits create widespread changes. A huge body of research has shown that small wins have enormous power, an influence disproportionate to the accomplishments of the victories themselves. “Small wins are a steady application of a small advantage,” one Cornell professor wrote in 1984. “Once a small win has been accomplished, forces are set in motion that favor another small win.” Small wins fuel transformative changes by leveraging tiny advantages into patterns that convince people that bigger achievements are within reach.

“It might have been hard at another company to fire someone who had been there so long,” O’Neill told me. “It wasn’t hard for me. It was clear what our values dictated. He got fired because he didn’t report the incident, and so no one else had the opportunity to learn from it. Not sharing an opportunity to learn is a cardinal sin.”

And the best way to strengthen willpower and give students a leg up, studies indicate, is to make it into a habit. “Sometimes it looks like people with great self-control aren’t working hard—but that’s because they’ve made it automatic,” Angela Duckworth, one of the University of Pennsylvania researchers told me. “Their willpower occurs without them having to think about it.”

“By making people use a little bit of their willpower to ignore cookies, we had put them into a state where they were willing to quit much faster,” Muraven told me. “There’s been more than two hundred studies on this idea since then, and they’ve all found the same thing. Willpower isn’t just a skill. It’s a muscle, like the muscles in your arms or legs, and it gets tired as it works harder, so there’s less power left over for other things.”

“If you want to do something that requires willpower—like going for a run after work—you have to conserve your willpower muscle during the day,” Muraven told me. “If you use it up too early on tedious tasks like writing emails or filling out complicated and boring expense forms, all the strength will be gone by the time you get home.

“When you learn to force yourself to go to the gym or start your homework or eat a salad instead of a hamburger, part of what’s happening is that you’re changing how you think,”

“That’s why signing kids up for piano lessons or sports is so important. It has nothing to do with creating a good musician or a five-year-old soccer star,” said Heatherton. “When you learn to force yourself to practice for an hour or run fifteen laps, you start building self-regulatory strength. A five-year-old who can follow the ball for ten minutes becomes a sixth grader who can start his homework on time.”5.13

“When someone comes up and starts yelling at you because they got the wrong drink, what’s your first reaction?” “I don’t know,” Travis said. “I guess I feel kind of scared. Or angry.” “That’s natural,” his manager said. “But our job is to provide the best customer service, even when the pressure’s on.” The manager flipped open the Starbucks manual, and showed Travis a page that was largely blank. At the top, it read, “When a customer is unhappy, my plan is to … ” “This workbook is for you to imagine unpleasant situations, and write out a plan for responding,” the manager said. “One of the systems we use is called the LATTE method. We Listen to the customer,

Acknowledge their complaint, Take action by solving the problem, Thank them, and then Explain why the problem occurred.5.19 THE LATTE HABIT LOOP “Why don’t you take a few minutes, and write out a plan for dealing with an angry customer. Use the LATTE method. Then we can role-play a little bit.”

Destructive organizational habits can be found within hundreds of industries and at thousands of firms. And almost always, they are the products of thoughtlessness, of leaders who avoid thinking about the culture and so let it develop without guidance. There are no organizations without institutional habits. There are only places where they are deliberately designed, and places where they are created without forethought, so they often grow from rivalries or fear.

There’s a paradox in this observation, of course. How can an organization implement habits that balance authority and, at the same time, choose a person or goal that rises above everyone else? How do nurses and doctors share authority while still making it clear who is in charge? How does a subway system avoid becoming bogged down in turf battles while making sure safety is still a priority, even if that means lines of authority must be redrawn? The answer lies in seizing the same advantage that Tony Dungy encountered when he took over the woeful Bucs and Paul O’Neill discovered when he became CEO of flailing Alcoa. It’s the same opportunity Howard Schultz exploited when he returned to a flagging Starbucks in 2007.

All those leaders seized the possibilities created by a crisis. During turmoil, organizational habits become malleable enough to both assign responsibility and create a more equitable balance of power. Crises are so valuable, in fact, that sometimes it’s worth stirring up a sense of looming catastrophe rather than letting it die down.

A company with dysfunctional habits can’t turn around simply because a leader orders it. Rather, wise executives seek out moments of crisis—or create the perception of crisis—and cultivate the sense that something must change, until everyone is finally ready to overhaul the patterns they live with each day. “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste,” Rahm Emanuel told a conference of chief executives in the wake of the 2008 global financial meltdown, soon after he was appointed as President Obama’s chief of staff. “This crisis provides the opportunity for us to do things that you could not do before.”

Pregnant women and new parents, after all, are the holy grail of retail. There is almost no more profitable, product-hungry, price-insensitive group in existence. It’s not just diapers and wipes. People with infants are so tired that they’ll buy everything they need—juice and toilet paper, socks and magazines—wherever they purchase their bottles and formula. What’s more, if a new parent starts shopping at Target, they’ll keep coming back for years.

“Consumers sometimes act like creatures of habit, automatically repeating past behavior with little regard to current goals,”

Whether selling a new song, a new food, or a new crib, the lesson is the same: If you dress a new something in old habits, it’s easier for the public to accept it.

“Just wait till the baby comes,” Pole said. “We’ll be sending you coupons for things you want before you even know you want them.”

A movement starts because of the social habits of friendship and the strong ties between close acquaintances. It grows because of the habits of a community, and the weak ties that hold neighborhoods and clans together. And it endures because a movement’s leaders give participants new habits that create a fresh sense of identity and a feeling of ownership.

A movement starts because of the social habits of friendship and the strong ties between close acquaintances. It grows because of the habits of a community, and the weak ties that hold neighborhoods and clans together. And it endures because a movement’s leaders give participants new habits that create a fresh sense of identity and a feeling of ownership.

McGavran’s philosophy said that if you teach people to live with Christian habits, they’ll act as Christians without requiring constant guidance and monitoring. Warren couldn’t lead every single small group in person;

“Sleepwalking is a reminder that wake and sleep are not mutually exclusive,” Mark Mahowald, a professor of neurology at the University of Minnesota and a pioneer in understanding sleep behaviors, told me. “The part of your brain that monitors your behavior is asleep, but the parts capable of very complex activities are awake. The problem is that there’s nothing guiding the brain except for basic patterns, your most basic habits. You follow what exists in your head, because you’re not capable of making a choice.”

It is just that Angie Bachmann should be held accountable and that Brian Thomas should go free because Thomas never knew the patterns that drove him to kill existed in the first place—much less that he could master them. Bachmann, on the other hand, was aware of her habits. And once you know a habit exists, you have the responsibility to change it. If she had tried a bit harder, perhaps she could have reined them in. Others have done so, even in the face of greater temptations.

THE FRAMEWORK:

  1. Identify the routine 
  2. Experiment with rewards 
  3. Isolate the cue 
  4. Have a plan

As you test four or five different rewards, you can use an old trick to look for patterns: After each activity, jot down on a piece of paper the first three things that come to mind when you get back to your desk. They can be emotions, random thoughts, reflections on how you’re feeling, or just the first three words that pop into your head. Then, set an alarm on your watch or computer for fifteen minutes. When it goes off, ask yourself: Do you still feel the urge for that cookie?

Put another way, a habit is a formula our brain automatically follows: When I see CUE, I will do ROUTINE in order to get a REWARD. To re-engineer that formula, we need to begin making choices again. And the easiest way to do this, according to study after study, is to have a plan. Within psychology, these plans are known as “implementation intentions.”