Cara's Reviews > The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
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's review
Nov 27, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: life
Read from October 07 to 27, 2012

Just started--fascinating so far! Even when your hippocampus is destroyed, you can still form new habits in your basal ganglia. One case study guy couldn't tell you where the kitchen was or which house was his, but if he wanted a snack, he'd walk into the kitchen and get a can of nuts out of the cupboard. In the morning, he'd walk around the block and go home to the right house. It's like how you can drive without thinking about it--your brain turns stuff into habits and routines as much as possible to save itself the work of having to rethink this stuff over and over. There's a critical moment when your mind is choosing which routine to run, when you're still thinking and can make a different choice. After that, you're on autopilot, not really thinking.


I absolutely loved the beginning chapters about individual habits. The later parts about forming habits in organizations and societies were less enthralling to me, but still interesting.

As usual, I wish I had taken notes while I was reading this, but I didn't. But the appendix offers a summary of how to apply the concepts to intentionally shape your own habits.

1. Identify the routine. For any habit (good or bad), there is a cycle of cue -> routine -> reward. In order to change, you need to identify the cue, the routine, and the reward. What triggers your habit? What do you do then? What do you get out of it?

2. Experiment with rewards. To be sure you've identified what's driving the habit, try replacing the reward with different things. Ex. Author was going to the cafeteria for a cookie each afternoon. Was the reward the cookie itself, talking to people, taking a break, walking across the building? By replacing different pieces of the scenario and seeing if he was still satisfied or not, he determined it was actually social interaction he craved.

As you test different rewards, after each try, jot down the first three things that come to mind. (helps with awareness, also makes it easier to remember how you felt later as you analyze the data from these experiments) Then, 15 minutes later, ask yourself: do you still crave whatever it was? If not, that points to the true reward.

3. Isolate the cue. This isn't easy because life is complicated, but it's probably one or more of these:
location, time, emotional state, other people, an immediately preceding action

Each time you feel the urge, write down the answers to these questions:
- Where are you?
- What time is it?
- What's your emotional state?
- Who else is around?
- What action preceded the urge?

Look for patterns over multiple days.

4. Have a plan. Habits work on autopilot. This is where you re-program your autopilot. Determine what you will do to get your reward instead of the old habit. Then, when the trigger occurs, follow the new plan to replace the old routine.

This all works for replacing an old habit. (You can't really eliminate a habit, you have to replace it with something else.) To form a new habit, you have to figure out the reward you'll get from it and create a cue and a craving for that reward.

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