Book is here.
I was swimming a couple of weeks ago when I realized I’d been to four consecutive weekly swim classes. Friday morning at 6:30am. Almost one year of living in Philadelphia, and I’m noticing a buildup of new habits, some good (like new morning workouts) and others not so good (like popping onto my bed in the middle of the day since it’s beside my desk). It was time to read The Power of Habit.
The book examines the habits of people, corporations, and societies. All habits, it says, are structured around a repeated cycle: Cue, Routine, and Reward.
I highly recommend reading it.
Even just read the first section on personal habits. Not only for the stories and science but to help you think differently because we see habits everywhere: Ted Lasso’s determination to unite his team (corporate habits); the Civil Rights movement (societal habits); or the delicious wafts walking by Auntie Anne’s (personal habits). Author Charles Duhigg creates a powerful composition about how to understand habit formation and, perhaps more importantly, habit change.
The brain engrains habits in its subconscious. To change these habits, I learned, requires more than sheer determination.
The factor for changing habits that really struck me is the necessity of belief.
“Even when alcoholics’ brains were changed through surgery, it wasn’t enough. The old cues and cravings for rewards were still there, waiting to pounce.”
Recovered alcoholics ground themselves in belief — in the form of God, golf, the AA community, or anything else. Then, the belief spills into other parts of life until they believe that change is possible. Oftentimes, the belief comes from communities, like AA, that, over time, make change believable. This goes for weak ties as well. Don’t believe you can run a marathon? Find a community of runners. Similarly, starting a business becomes more rewarding when you have a network of people going through similar experiences.
Another eye-opening insight is on the topic of personal willpower. A Case Western Reserve University study revealed that willpower is a muscle. And it gets tired! If you spend the day on tedious paperwork you might have a hard time summoning the willpower to make dinner that night. Willpower has finite supply. To extend that supply and strengthen the muscle, focus on one habit to change. Just like belief, stronger willpower will seep into other aspects of life.
“Some thinkers hold that it is by nature that people become good, others that it is by habit, and others that it is by instruction. Just as a piece of land has to be prepared beforehand if it is to nourish the seed, so the mind of the pupil has to be prepared in its habits if it is to enjoy and dislike the right things.” — Aristotle
In the last two sections, Charles Duhigg investigates corporate and societal habits. How do companies instill habits in employees? How does the U.S. government alter Americans’ diets? What consumer habits do companies create? This analysis will give you a new perspective on tactics to build psychological habits, and how to avoid them as a consumer.
When discussing societal habits, I noted the emphasis on weak ties. Weak-tie acquaintances offer information from new parts of the social system. And if there is a weak tie it’s far easier to compel people to participate in something like the Civil Rights movement. The concept of weak ties is also discussed in-depth in Meg Jay’s The Defining Decade in a similar context.
Reading this book drives home a key point: we know habits exist and have the responsibility to change them. Give this book a read if you’re trying to establish new habits, change old ones, or gain an appreciation for how others you know have overcome their own habit cycles.