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The power of habit by Charles Duhigg – Brief Remarks

Posted by Raul Barral Tamayo en Jueves, 11 de febrero, 2016

In The Power of Habit, award-winning New York Times reportes Charles Duhigg takes us into the thrilling and surprising world of the scientifc study of habits.

He examines why some people and companies struggle to change, despite years of trying, while others seem to remake themselves overnight. He visits laboratories where neuroscientists explore how habits work and where, exactly, they reside in our brains. And he uncovers how 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.

The result is a compelling argument and on empowering discovery: they key to exercising regularly, losing weight, raising exceptional children, becoming more productive or even building revolutionary companies is understanding how habits work. By harnessing this new science, we can transform our business, our communities, and our lives.

Charles Duhigg is an investigative reportes for The New York Times, where he contributes to the newspaper and the magazines. For his work he has received the National Academies of Sciences, National Journalism, George Polk, Gerald Loeb, and other awards, and he was part of a tema of finalists for the 2009 Pulitzer Prize. Mr Duhigg is a graduate of Harvard Business School and Yale University. Before becoming a journalist, Mr Duhigg worked in private equity and was a bike messenger in San Francisco.

Comments extracted from the book, they could be right or wrong, you decide for yourself:

  • Major: “Understanding habits is the most important thing I’ve learned in the army”.
  • We now know why habits emerge, how to break them into parts and rebuild their mechanics. We understand how to make people eat less, exercise more, work more efficiently, and live healthier lives. Transforming a habit isn’t necessarily easy or quick. It isn’t always simple. But it is possible. And now we understand how.
  • The basal ganglia was central to recalling patterns and acting on them. The basal ganglia stored habits even while the rest of the brain went to sleep.
  • Habits, scientist say, emerge because the brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort. Left to its own devices, the brain will try to make almost any routine into a habit, because habits allow our minds to ramp down more often. This effort-saving instinct is a huge advantage.
  • An efficient brain allos us to stop thinking constantly abotu basic behaviours so we can devote mental energy to inventing spears, irrigation systems, and, eventually, airplanes and video games.
  • Our basal ganglia have devised a clever system to determine when to let habits take over.
  • This process within our brains is a three-step loop. First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future. Over time, this loop (cue, routine, reward) becomes more and more automatic.
  • Unless you deliberately fight a habit the pattern will unfold automatically.
  • Without habit loops, our brains would shut down, overwhelmed by the minutiae of daily life.
  • The brain’s dependence on automatic routines can be dangerous. Habits are often as much a curse as a benefit.
  • We might not remember the experiences that create our habits, but once they are lodged within our brains they influence how we act.
  • What, exactly, did Claude Hopkins do? He created a craving. And that craving, it turns out, is what makes cues and rewards work. That carving is what powers the habit loop. Who doesn’t want a prettier smile? Particularily when all it takes is a quick brush with Pepsodent?
  • People couldn’t detect most of the bad smells in their lives. If you smoke cigaretttes, it damages your olfactory capacities so much that you can’t smell smoke anymore.
  • As we associate cues with certain rewards, a subconscius craving emerges in our brains that starts the habit loop spinning. Once our brain learns that a doughnut box contains yummy sugar and other carbohydrates, it will start anticipating the sugar high. Our brains will push us toward the box. Then, if we don’t eat the doughnut, we’ll feel disappointed.
  • This is how new habits are created: by putting together a cue, a routine, and a reward, and then cultivating a craving that drives the loop.
  • Only when your brain starts expecting the reward will it become automatic to lace up your jogging shoes each morning. The cue, in addition to triggering a routine, must also trigger a craving for the reward to come.
  • Claude Hopkins wasn’t selling beautiful teeth. He was selling a sensation. Once people craved that cool tingling (once they equated it with cleanliness) brushing became a habit.
  • Cravings are what drive habits. And figuring out how to spark a craving makes creating a new habit easier.
  • You can never truly extinguish bad habits. Rather, to change a habit, you must keep the old cue, and deliver the old reward, but insert a new routine.
  • Almots any behavior can be transformed if the cue and reward stay the same.
  • Nathan Azrin: “Once you’re aware of how your habit works, once your recognize the cues and rewards, you’re halfway to changing it”.
  • If you identify the cues and rewards, you can change the routine. At least, most of the time. For some habits, however, there’s one other ingredient that’s necessary: belief.
  • Belief was the ingredient that made a reworked the habit loop into a permanent behaviour. You don’t have to believe in God, but you do need the capacity to believe that things will get better.
  • For a habit to stay changed, people must believe change is possible. And most often, that belief only emerges with the help of a group.
  • Belief is essential, and it grows our of a communal experience, even if that community is only as large as two people.
  • The habits that matter the most are the ones that, when they start to shift, dislodge an remake other patterns.
  • If you focus on changing or cultivating keystone habits, you can cause widespread shifts. However, identifying keystone habits is tricky.
  • 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 enourmous power, and influence disproportionate to the accomplishments of the victories themselves.
  • Cultures grow out of the keystone habits in every organization, wether leaders are aware of them or not.
  • 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 for other things.
  • If you want to do something that requires willpower you have to conserve your willpower muscle during the day. 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.
  • Todd Heatherton, researcher at Dartmouth: “When you learn to force yourself to go to the gym or start your homework or eat a salad instead of a hamburguer, part of what’s happening is that you’re changing how you think. People get better at regulating their impulses. And once you’ve gotten into that willpower groove, your rain is practiced at helping you focus on a goal”.
  • Starbucks. 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 ocurred.
  • This is how willpower becomes a habit: by choosing a certain behavior ahead of time, and then following that routine when an inflection point arrives.
  • It may seem like most organizations make rational choices based on deliberate decision making, but that’s not really how companies operate at all. Instead, firms are guided by long held organizational habits, patterns that often emerge from thousands of employees’ independent decisions. And these habits have more profound impacts that anyone previously understood.
  • Routines provide the hundreds of unwritten rules that companies need to operate. They allow workers to experiment with new ideas without having to ask for permission at every step.
  • Routines create truces between potentially warring groups or individuals within an organization.
  • Most economics are accustomed to treating companies as idyllic places where everyone is devoted to a common goal: making as much money as possible. In the real world, that’s not how things work at all. Companies aren’t big happy families where everyone plays together nicely. Rather, most workplaces are made up of fiefdoms where executives compete for power and credit, often in hidden skirmishes that make their own performances appear superior and ther rivals’ seem worse. Divisions compete for resources and sabotage each otehr to steal glory. Bosses pit their subordinates against one another so that no one can mount a coup. Companies aren’t families. They’re battlefields in a civil war.
  • Most companies roll along relativel peacefully, year after year, because they have routines that create truces that allow everyone to set aside their rivalries long enough to get a day’s work done.
  • For organizations to work, leaders must cultivate habits that both create a real and balanced peace and, paradoxically, make it absolutely clear who’s in charge.
  • 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) amd cultivate the sense that something must change, until everyone is finally ready to overhaul the patterns they live with each day.
  • New parents are so valuable that major retailers will do almost anything to find them, including going inside maternity wards, even if their products have nothing to do with infants.
  • How do you take advantage of someone’s habits without letting them know you’re studying every detail of their lives?
  • Much of the time, we don’t actually choose if we like or dislike a song. It would take too much mental effort. Instead, we react to the cues and rewards and whitout thinking, we either start singing, or reach over and change the station.
  • Tom Webster, radio consultant: “Managing a playlist is all about risk mitifation. Stations have to take risks on new songs, otherwise people stop listening. But what listeners really want are songs they already like. So you have to make new songs seem familiar as fast as possible”.
  • Wether 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.
  • Someday soon, say predictive analytics experts, it will be possible for companies to know our tastes and predict our habits better than we know ourselves. However, knowing that someone might prefer a certain brand of peanut butter isn’t enough to get them to act on that preference. To market a new habit you must understand how to make the novel seem familiar.
  • 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.
  • For an idea to grow beyond a community, it must become self-propelling. And the surest way to achieve that is to give people new habits that help them figure out where to go on their own.
  • Movements don’t emerge because everyone suddenly decides to face the same direction at once. They rely on social patterns that begin as the habits of friendship, grow through the habits of communities, and are sustained by new habits that change participants’ sense of self.
  • Every habit, no matter its complexity, is maleable.
  • To modify a habit, you must decide to change it. You must consciously accept the hard work of identifying the cues and rewards that drive the habits’ routine, and find alternatives.
  • Individuals and habits are all different, and so the specifics of diagnosing and changing the patterns in our live differ from person to person and behaviour to behaviour.
  • With time and effort, almost any habit can be reshaped. The framework: identify the route, experiment with rewards, isolate the cue, have a plan.
  • The first step is to identify the routine. The routine is the most obvious aspect: it’s the behaviour you want to change.
  • To figure out which cravings are driving particular habits, it’s useful to experiment with different rewards. By experimenting with different rewards, you can isolate what you are actually craving, which is essential in redesigning the habit.
  • The reason why it is so hard to identify the cues that trigger our habits is because there is too much information bombarding us as our behavious unfold.

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