The Power of Habit : Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business

The power of habit by Charles Duhhig

Summary of the book “The power of habit”: This is the bible when it comes to understanding your habits, changing them and changing your life.

By Charles Duhigg, 337 pages, 2014

Note: this is a guest article written by Yohann Feneche from the blog cadreasucces.com

Chronicle and Summary of “The power of habit”:

INTRODUCTION

It’s your dream, right? Imagine: Be in the same shape as when you were 20. Success at work. Zero stress. Does that sound familiar?

Health. Success. Inner peace.

You’re chasing your ideal. You want to shine. Why not you?

I’m not going to tell you what to do, because you know where you’re going. You know what you have to do:

  • To be in good health: no more fast food, cigarettes or alcohol.
  • To lose weight: simply, a balanced diet. Goodbye to sugary snacks in the cafeteria.
  • To be in good shape: child’s play – exercise.
  • To get that promotion: launch the new project, do some courses. Escape the gentle daily routine.

All you have to do now is persevere. And sooner or later, your time will come. You will quit your mundane daily life for a spicier one.

It’s simple on paper, so why is it so hard in real life?

Because you are dragging a 10-ton ball and chain around: Laziness. Snacks. TV. The easy road.

But where there’s a will, there’s a way, right?

So you force yourself to do things. You tell yourself: I’ll soon get used to it. And it works… For a while.
Until the day you relapse. Once. Not a big deal, right?

But too late. 3 weeks later and your resolution is completely forgotten. Your old demons are back in place.
Back to square one.

Are you frustrated when you see other people succeed and not you?

Is it all over?

No, because you have a serious advantage: You are part of the community on this site: people convinced that they can change for the better.

You still believe that, because you are reading this article.

And you are right.

But without the right method, creating a good habit is like swimming against the current.

The Power of Habit will show you the right approach to creating habits that will change everything. What you are missing right now is a strategy. An efficient manner to set good habits in stone and cast off bad ones for ever. Then you can undergo deep change and propel yourself to the pinnacle of your ideal. Ready to change for the better? Let’s go!

PART 1: THE HABITS OF INDIVIDUALS

1– What is a habit?

More than 40% of actions are automatic. You perform them without even realising it, and that is bad.
Don’t you agree?

Without your habits, your life would be hell. As soon as you get up, you are bombarded with a ton of existential questions:

  • How do I get to work?
  • How do I brush my teeth?
  • Should I put my right or left sock on first?

Remember when you started driving school. Every hour of learning was exhausting. You had to think about every action. Now driving requires no more effort than taking a walk. It has become automatic.

You habits have already saved your life. They protect you even when you sleep. That is why sleepwalkers stay away from windows.
Once behaviour is repeated, your brain creates a habit and frees up space for other tasks.
Ok. You manage all that.

Now look at your activities:

  • When you get to work: knuckle down or hang out?
  • During your free time: sport or TV?
  • In the kitchen: vegetables or French fries?

Your habits can propel you to success. Like athletes who become world champion, by repeating the same routines for many years. His reliance on his habits is what led Michael Phelps to win 23 gold medals for swimming (see the studies on his training at the end of the article)

But there is a hiccup.

Your brain cannot tell the difference between good and bad actions.

What happens when you repeat toxic habits?

Repeat bad actions and a bad habit sets in.

In extreme cases, toxic habits take over the will: drugs, alcohol, bulimia, anorexia, depression, insomnia, suicide… Habits do not ask permission.
The occasional fast food meal that has turned into once a week.

Habits are powerful. They are a part of you.
They shape your life.

To transform your habits, you need to understand their structure.

2 – Structure of a habit: The loop

A habit is a loop in 3 parts:

  1. A stimulus triggers your habit. For example: The sweet scent of a cake makes your mouth water. A loud car horn annoys you. Seeing your mother-in-law makes you tense.
  2. Routine: this is the action triggered by the stimulus. This action can be physical (run away, go jogging, buy a cookie), mental (daydream, focus) or emotional (a feeling of joy, sadness, anxiety)
  3. Reward: this is they ‘why’ behind your habit. It is the consequence of the automatic action. For example: the feeling of well-being after exercise, of cleanliness after brushing your teeth; or accomplishment when you successfully complete a project.

The more you use a habit, the more automatic it becomes. It digs deep roots into the depths of your brain.
Fast food vendors use this mechanism all the time to make us eat more… And get fatter.

Let’s take your New Year resolutions and see how to make them concrete realities.

3 – How to create new habits:

What do you know about backache?

When your body greets you in the morning with whip lashes to your spine. The promise of a day spent taking painkillers.

Too much time spent hunched over your desk. No physical activity. For too long.
Welcome to the club.

No time, no desire. Always something else to do. Until the day comes when you can no longer ignore the problem any more. Mine was when I woke up in agony because of my back. It was as if I had slept all night on the stairs. I was 30 years old and felt like I was 60. As I massaged my back, I pictured my future: Stuck on the sofa. Back screaming in pain. Watching my family and friends enjoying the fresh air. All because I didn’t take care of myself. Stupid, right?

It’s settled. I’m taking up sport: 45 minutes of running in the morning, 3 times per week, with exercises and stretches to go with it.

How to get started.

Exercise is hard. There is always an excuse not to do it.  So imagine a winter’s morning, when the cold freezes your bones. How can you get up out of your warm bed an hour early?

To beat the elements and become sporty, you need a cast iron habit:

  1. Create a stimulus: Create the perfect conditions to establish your habit.
    Prepare what you need before you go to bed. When you get up, you just have to lace up your trainers and off you go.
  2. Find a reward for yourself: It has to be something powerful, something you want, something that can get you out of bed even in winter.

The reward has to be so strong that you can look forward to it. It’s like when your mouth waters when you see a delicious cake.

For example:

  • A good meal after making an effort.
  • A fruit juice packed with vitamins.
  • A well-deserved evening of relaxation.
  • The sensation of well-being after making an effort.
  • A sense of accomplishment.
  • A long hot shower.
  • A combination.

Look forward to your reward: this is the secret to a lasting habit.

For smartphone addicts, the vibration of their toy, the anticipation and the distraction of a notification can glue them to their telephone.
For workaholics, anticipating the success of their venture can keep them working until bedtime.

Ok. You have the basis on which to create new habits.

Is it enough? Alas, no! You still have to deal with the ball and chain: your bad habits. Doing exercise in the morning means getting up early. What happens if you like a lie-in? Going on a diet means saying goodbye to sweet things. How can you stop nibbling?

4 – The golden rule of habit change:

Bad news: a habit is eternal.

It’s like riding a bicycle. It can’t be forgotten.
Habits are carved into your brain.

If you nibble, this is not by accident. You are responding to a need, in the same way that eating a fast food lunch responds (poorly) to the need to eat.

Are you doomed to endure your bad habits until the end of time? No!

Good news: you can transform a habit

You have to respond to your needs. Like the need to eat. But you can choose to eat healthily instead of eating processed foods. You can change the way you respond to your needs (routine). Alcoholics Anonymous use this process and they have successful sobered up 2 million people.

Seeing your mother-in-law always triggers a reaction inside you (stimulus). However, you can change your reaction to this stimulus (the routine): instead of bravely running away when you see her shape appear through the fog, you can go up to her, say hello, tell her you are in a hurry and move on. Much classier, don’t you think?

PRACTICAL CASE

If you are addicted to sugar: You know. When you start to doze off at work. You want one thing and one thing only: something sweet, a tasty cake. Everyone knows it’s bad for you.

Who wouldn’t want to stop? This is the last time. You are determined to be done with this scourge. If the desire comes over you, simply say “No. I make the decisions and will not go and eat that exquisite double chocolate muffin. ”

Your resolution will hold up. For a while. Then you will relapse: Wednesday. 3pm. It’s cold. The rain is bouncing off the pavement. A ton of work. Your eyes are closing. Too late! You are already enjoying your favourite cake. Just this once, you say. Just to keep you awake. And you deserve a treat, after all.

But the exception just happened again. There’s a new excuse every time: it’s Monday morning. I’m tired. I’m hungry. I need some comfort. I’ve got a lot of work to do.

Will is not enough by itself. It runs out and one day it disappears. You need the right strategy. Let’s approach it using method.

  1. Identify the routine:
    Simple: This is the behaviour to abolish. In this case, it’s: Eating a cake in the cafeteria.
  2. Identify the reward:

Why are you eating this treat?

Remember: all your habits respond to an unchanging need, to get a reward.

In this case, the call of sugar could be:

  • Get your dose of sugar
  • Regain strength
  • Share some time with your colleagues
  • Change your thoughts
  • Escape boredom
  • Take a break
  • Change of scenery
  • Stretch your legs

Easy to say, harder to do. You can easily stop after the first explanation. In the case of the sugary afternoon treat, it will be “I have a cake in the cafeteria because I need sugar.”

But you will never know the real reason without testing several possibilities.

Over the coming days, when you want to go to the cafeteria, test another kind of behaviour, such as:

  • Take a walk outside, and then go back to your desk without eating anything.
  • The next day, buy a treat and eat it at your desk.
  • The next day, buy an apple and enjoy it while chatting with your friends.
  • Next day, try a cup of coffee.
  • Next day, go to a friend’s desk, chat for a few minutes and go back to your office.

After each test, when you go back to your desk, write down 3 things that come into your mind. They can be emotions, words, thoughts, for example: “satisfied, relaxed, rested”.

Then 15 minutes later, ask yourself: do I still feel the need for this treat?

If, for example, after eating a cookie, you still feel the need to leave your desk, then the dose of sugar is not the real reward. If, however, after chatting with friends, you no longer feel like eating the cake, then it is the human contact that is the reward you are looking for.

Clearly identifying the reward is crucial to changing your habit. How many people put on weight because they are stressed? A simple walk would suit them just as well. Now that you have identified the reward, all you have to do is identify the stimulus.

C : Isolate the stimulus:

Be careful. Clearly defining the stimulus is tough. For example: do you have breakfast at the same time every day because you are hungry? Or because it’s 7.30am? Your children are having breakfast? Or because you are dressed and that is when the breakfast habit is triggered?

The difficulty is that we have to face too much information when we are engaging with our habit.

As soon as the desire to go to the cafeteria and buy a cake appears, answer these 5 questions on paper:

  • Where are you? => at your desk
  • What time is it? => 3.30pm
  • How do you feel? => Tired
  • Who is with you? => Nobody
  • What was the last thing you did? => Answer an email

Answer these 5 questions every day. You will see a pattern that repeats: for example, you always want the cake at the same time (let’s say 3.30pm) and you are always on your own.

You now have all the information about the habit. Assemble the stimulus, the routine and the reward:

“At 3.30 pm every day, I feel the need to talk. That is why I go to the cafeteria. I buy a cookie and chat with my colleagues. “

You now have the power to change this habit.

Let’s draw up a plan:

At 3.30pm every day, I go to a friend’s desk and chat for 10 minutes. I set an alarm so that I don’t forget. You will see that you are going to change your behaviour through these choices. Soon you will no longer need a watch to remind you of the routine. If there is nobody to talk to, you can go to the cafeteria and chat with your friends, but without buying that naughty cake.

Ok. You have the principles. All that remains is to identify the key behaviour you need to change!

PART 2: THE HABITS OF SUCCESSFUL ORGANIZATIONS

1 – The keystone habits that change everything:

Have you ever noticed something? A friend starts exercising. His or her behaviour changes: s/he is calmer, more focused, more motivated. Exercise has triggered a chain reaction. It has become a keystone habit.

Keystone habits create a good state of mind. This is why it is important for your children to do a number of sports and activities. It is not to become a champion, but to learn to want to improve.

This is also the principle of tiny victories. Why is this capital? Because it puts us into the right dynamic. If you are having negotiations and can agree about: the order of business of the meeting, the process, the date of the next meeting… your collaboration is off on the right foot.

The ability to negotiate well is an art. It is hard. To get better at it, you need the right tools. The book “Getting more” by Stuart Diamond goes into this subject in more detail. It is a book that literally transformed me. I read it 5 times. You will see. Everyone can make progress.

If you get into the habit of claiming small victories, success will be a natural extension of your behaviour.

This is also the principle behind the 5 (or more) whys. By getting to the root of the problem, you can trigger the behaviour that will lead to a cascade of positive changes upstream.

  • Do you want to lose weight?  Write down everything you eat one day per week, in detail (amount, time).
  • Do you want to be happier? Write down 3 positive things from the previous day every day. Happiness is a habit. You have to practice.

Your well-being is your biggest advantage in life. Happiness is a really interesting topic. Some essential reading on the subject is the book “The Happiness Advantage” by Shawn Anchor

Writing things down leads to awareness. You will notice the toxic patterns that repeat themselves and take the right decisions to change them.

In the case of a diet: Your journal will help you to plan meals and avoid eating rubbish. That is why nutritionists ask this of their patients (whether anorexic or bulimic).

Keystone habits generate a new culture, whether in your personal life or for a company.
Keystone habits are hard to keep. For an alcoholic, staying sober is the light at the end of the tunnel. It is as insurmountable as it is necessary.

So you have to find a group or a community prepared to help you through the difficult times (like Alcoholics Anonymous for people battling the booze). The more company you have, the better your chances of success. Habits go beyond the personal sphere. Organisations have habits too.

2 – Habits and company culture:

Every manager asks this question: how can I create a culture of excellence in my company?
The problem is you cannot force people to change.

Take Alcoa: a steelworks. In 1987, the company was on the brink of crisis. The unions were at war with the management. Any action by management led to strikes.

A deadlock, you may think?

Then a new manager arrived: Paul O’Neill had one idea in mind: Bring his company together around an objective. One important goal for the employees, unions and management.

In O’Neill’s time, accidents, injuries and deaths were common occurrences at Alcoa. The unions had been demanding better safety processes for years. The injuries led to absenteeism, lateness and a reduction in quality. The management recognised these problems. So, O’Neill decided to make Alcoa the safest company in the world. His slogan was: “Everyone has the right to work in complete safety”

Here is the routine that O’Neill established:

  • Stimulus: an incident at the factory
  • Routine: The factory manager had to report directly to O’Neill within 24 hours with a plan of action to prevent this happening again.
  • Reward: Only employees that were on board got promoted.

The number of workplace accidents began to fall. Small victories launched a productive dynamic in the company. Virtuous behaviour appeared. Employees passed on their ideas to the management. A culture of excellence was established above and beyond workplace safety. Alcoa became a dynamic company, open to change.

Your habits are also used for marketing. Guess why? To sell!

3 – Habits and marketing:

Position a product:

The work of advertisers relies on consumer habits. Their goal is to make you want to buy the same product over and over again.

Imagine that you have to promote a revolutionary product: the very first air freshener that can get rid of any bad smell, no matter how rotten it may be. Easy, you may think, using a simple slogan: “Goodbye bad smells”. One obvious example: eliminate the smell of cigarettes or a household pet. The job is done in 1 minute.

Not so fast. There is a problem:

People get used to bad smells. If you live with a cat, you won’t smell the litter box any more, but your guests certainly will! Don’t forget that this is a new market. Your target is not used to using this kind of product.
Your target does not feel the need to buy your product. Yikes.

This is the story of Febreze. Its initial positioning as an air freshener was a disaster.
How did they do it? They repositioned the product. They looked for a reward that people would want.  A fresh smell after cleaning. Febreze, with its scent, became the final touch after cleaning the house.

And the loop was in place:

  • Stimulus: a fresh and clean home
  • Routine: Spray some Febreze
  • Reward: A clean smell. A sense of a job well done. Spraying Febreze was like a little celebration after cleaning (studies on this topic are in the annexes).

These days, your habits are under scrutiny. They are individually analysed so that you put as many products as possible in your shopping trolley.

Conclusion about “The power of habit”:

The power of habit is essential reading to understand your habits and change them.

Apply the principles to all your behaviour. You will discover the source, and how to change. You can go on to implement the mechanisms that will lead you, step by step, to a healthier life. A more fulfilled professional life. Better relationships with other people.

Change is like building a house. Your motivation provides the plans. The principles in The power of habit are the cement. All you need to do is begin building.

Strong points of the book The power of habit:

  • The power of habit is Concrete,
  • The power of habit is Comprehensive,
  • Offers applications for every part of life.

Weak points of the book The power of habit:

  • Some passages are too descriptive

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