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THE POWER OF HABIT

Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business


by Charles Duhigg
Focus: Business Self-Improvement Psychology/Neuroscience

IN THIS SUMMARY, YOU WILL LEARN:


Why the brain tries to make routines into habits.
How cravings create and power new habits.
How to apply the golden rule of habit change.
What keystone habits are and the importance of them in creating a new routine.

OVERVIEW
In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg, award-winning business reporter for The New York Times, takes us to
the thrilling edge of scientific discoveries that explain why habits exist and how they can be changed. By
distilling vast amounts of information into engrossing narratives, Duhigg brings to light a whole new
understanding of human nature and its potential for transformation. Along the way, we learn why some people
and companies struggle to change, despite years of trying, while others seem to remake themselves overnight.
We visit laboratories where neuroscientists explore how habits work and where they reside in our brains. We
discover how the right habits were crucial to the successful promotion of Pepsodent; to Tony Dungy who led his
team to a Super Bowl win by changing one step in his players habit loop; and to Alcoa when it turned itself
around by changing just one routine within the organization.
At its core, The Power of Habit contains an exhilarating argument: The key to exercising regularly, losing weight,
raising exceptional children, becoming more productive, building revolutionary companies and social
movements, and achieving success is understanding how habits work. By harnessing this new science, we can
transform our businesses, our communities and our lives.

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INTRO
When you woke up this morning, what did you do first? Did you hop in the shower, check your email or grab a
doughnut from the kitchen counter? Did you brush your teeth before or after you toweled off? Which route did
you drive to work? When you got home, did you put on your sneakers and go for a run, or pour yourself a drink
and eat dinner in front of the TV? All our life, so far as it has definite form, is but a mass of habits, William
James wrote in 1892. Most of the choices we make each day may feel like the products of well-considered
decision making, but theyre not. Theyre habits. And though each habit means relatively little on its own, over
time, the meals we order, whether we save or spend, how often we exercise, and the way we organize our
thoughts and work routines have enormous impacts on our health, productivity, financial security and
happiness. One paper published by a Duke University researcher in 2006 found that more than 40 percent of the
actions people performed each day werent actual decisions, but habits. James like countless others, from
Aristotle to Oprah spent much of his life trying to understand why habits exist. But only in the past two
decades have scientists and marketers really begun understanding how habits work and, more important,
how they change. At one point, we all consciously decided how much to eat and what to focus on when we got to
the office, how often to have a drink or when to go for a jog. Then we stopped making a choice, and the behavior
became automatic. Its a natural consequence of our neurology. And by understanding how it happens, you can
rebuild those patterns in whichever way you choose.

Habits are simple cue-routine-reward loops that save effort and endure.
Our brains are constantly looking for ways to save energy. Research shows that one way they do this is by
turning activities into habits. Hence, even a complicated act that demands concentration at first, like backing out
of the driveway, eventually becomes an effortless habit. Research has indicated that as many as 40% of the
actions you perform each day are based on habit and not on conscious decisions.

In general, any habit can be broken down into a three-part loop:


First, you sense an external cue, say, your alarm clock ringing. This creates an overall spike in your brain activity
as your brain decides which habit is appropriate for the situation.

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Next comes the routine, meaning the activity youre used to performing when faced with this particular cue. You
march into the bathroom and brush your teeth with your brain virtually in autopilot.
Finally, you get a reward: a feeling of success and, in this case, a minty fresh tingling sensation in your mouth.
Your overall brain activity increases again as your brain registers the successful completion of the activity and
reinforces the link between the cue and routine.
Habits are incredibly resilient: in some cases, people with extensive brain damage who could not even
remember where they lived could still adhere to their old habits and pick up new ones. This is because learning
and maintaining habits happens in the basal ganglia, a part of your brain that can function normally even if the
rest of your brain is damaged.
Unfortunately, this resilience means that even if you kick a bad habit, like smoking, you will always be at risk of
relapsing.

Habits stick because they create craving.


Imagine this scenario: every afternoon for the past year, youve bought and eaten a delicious, sugar-laden
chocolate-chip cookie from the cafeteria at your workplace. Call it a just reward for a hard days work.
Unfortunately, as a few friends have already pointed out, youve started putting on weight, so you decide to kick
the habit. But how do you imagine youll feel that first afternoon, walking past the cafeteria? Odds are, you will
either eat just one more cookie or youll go home in a distinctly grumpy mood.
Kicking a bad habit is hard because you develop a craving for the reward at the end of the habit loop. Studies on
animals have shown that once they become used to a simple cue-routine-reward habit, their brains begin
anticipating the reward even before they get it. And once they anticipate it, denying them the actual reward
makes them frustrated and mopey. This is the neurological basis of craving.
Craving works for good habits as well. Research indicates that people who manage to exercise habitually crave
something from the exercise, be it the endorphin rush in their brain, the sense of accomplishment or the treat
they allow themselves afterwards. This craving is what solidifies the habit; cues and rewards alone are not
enough.
Companies and advertisers work hard to understand and create such cravings in consumers. Consider Claude
Hopkins, the man who popularized Pepsodent toothpaste when countless other toothpastes had failed. He
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provided a reward that created craving; namely, the cool, tingling sensation that today is a staple of all
toothpastes. That sensation not only proved that the product worked in consumers minds, it also became a
tangible reward that they began to crave.

To change a habit, substitute the routine for another and believe in the change.
Ask any smoker looking to quit: when the craving for nicotine hits, its hard to ignore. Hence, the trick is to still
respond to the craving, but with something other than smoking.
This is the golden rule of changing any habit: dont resist craving, redirect it. Keep the same cues and rewards,
but change the routine that occurs as a result of that craving.
Research indicates that one of the best-known habit-changing organizations in the world uses this method to
great effectiveness. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) may have helped as many as ten million alcoholics achieve
sobriety.
The AA asks participants to list what exactly they crave from drinking. Usually, factors like relaxation and
companionship are far more important than the actual intoxication. The AA then provides new routines that
address those cravings, such as going to meetings and talking to sponsors for companionship, effectively
substituting drinking for something less harmful.
Though this works well in general, stressful circumstances can cause relapses. For example, one recovering
alcoholic had been sober for years when his mother called to say she had cancer. After hanging up, he left work
and went directly to a bar, and then, in his own words, was pretty much drunk for the next two years.
Research indicates that the differentiating component between relapses and continued sobriety is belief.
Spirituality and God feature prominently in AA philosophy, but its not necessarily the religious component itself
that helps people stay sober. Believing in God merely helps participants to also believe in the possibility of
change for themselves, which makes them stronger in the face of stressful life events.

Change can be achieved by focusing on keystone habits and achieving small wins.
When former government bureaucrat Paul ONeill became the CEO of the ailing aluminum company Alcoa,
investors were skeptical. Their apprehension was not helped by the fact that rather than talking about profits
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and revenues, ONeill declared his number-one priority was workplace safety. One investor immediately called
his clients to say, The board put a crazy hippie in charge and hes going to kill the company.
This was terrible advice, as ONeill turned Alcoa around, increasing its annual income by a factor of five. He
understood that habits also exist in organizations and that, if he wanted to change Alcoas fate, he needed to
change its habits.
But not all habits are equal. Some so-called keystone habits are more important than others, because adhering to
them creates positive effects that spill over into other areas. For instance, research indicates that doctors have a
hard time getting obese people to make a broad change in their lifestyle, but when patients focus on developing
one keystone habit, such as keeping a meticulous food journal, other positive habits start to take root as well.
For ONeill, by insisting that worker safety come first, he forced managers and employees to think about how the
manufacturing process could be safer and how those suggestions could best be communicated to everyone. The
end result was a highly streamlined and hence profitable production organization.
The reason a keystone habit works is that it provides small wins, meaning early successes that are fairly easy to
attain. Achieving the keystone habit helps you believe that change in other spheres of life is possible too, starting
a cascade of positive changes.

Willpower is the most important keystone habit.


A famous Stanford University study showed that four-year-olds with more willpower (as demonstrated by their
ability to resist the temptation of a tasty marshmallow) went on to do far better in life academically and socially
than their less determined peers.
Willpower, it seemed, was a keystone habit that could be parlayed into other areas of life, too. Further research
revealed that willpower is in fact a skill that can be learned.
But why then is our willpower so inconsistent? Some days hitting the gym is no problem, whereas on others
leaving the sofa is nigh-impossible.
It turns out, willpower is actually like a muscle; it can tire. If you exhaust it concentrating on, say, a tedious
spreadsheet at work, you might have no willpower left when you get home. But the analogy goes even further:

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by engaging in habits that demand resolution say, adhering to a strict diet you can actually strengthen your
willpower. A willpower workout, if you will.

But other factors can also affect your willpower. For example, Starbucks found that on most days, all of its
employees had the willpower to smile and be cheerful, regardless of how they felt. But when things became
stressful for example, when a customer began screaming they would lose their cool. Based on research,
executives determined that if baristas mentally prepared for unpleasant situations and made a plan of how to
overcome them, they could muster enough willpower to follow the plan even when under pressure.
Other studies have shown that a lack of autonomy also adversely affects willpower. If people do something
because they are ordered to rather than by choice, their willpower muscles will get tired much quicker.

Organizational habits can be dangerous, but a crisis can change them.


Research shows that many organizations are driven by the unofficial organizational habits that have emerged
amid employees over time, rather than any deliberate decision-making processes.
Consider the London Underground in 1987. Responsibilities in running the underground were divided into
several clear-cut areas, and as a result staff formed an organizational habit of not overstepping their
departmental bounds. In fact, attempts to do so were met with scorn.
Under the surface, most organizations are like this: battlegrounds in which individuals clamor for power and
rewards. Habits such as minding ones own business form as ways to keep the peace.
Unfortunately, some habits are dangerous. In 1987 at the Kings Cross underground station, a ticket collector
saw signs of a fire but didnt raise the alarm. It wasnt his responsibility. The fire escalated, but no-one present
knew how to use the sprinkler system or had the authority to use the fire extinguishers.
They were someone elses responsibility.
Within minutes, a huge fireball erupted into the ticket hall. Rescuers described passengers so badly burnt their
skin came off when touched. In the end, 31 people died.

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But even such tragedies can have a silver lining: crises offer a unique chance to remake organizational habits by
providing a sense of emergency. This is why good leaders often actively prolong the sense of crisis or even
exacerbate it.
In investigating the fire, Desmond Fennel found that many potentially life-saving changes had been proposed
years earlier, but none had been implemented. When Fennel encountered resistance to his suggestions, too, he
turned the whole investigation into a media circus a crisis that allowed him to implement the changes. Today,
every station has a manager whose main responsibility is passenger safety.

Companies take advantage of habits in their marketing.


Retailers have long known more about the habits of shoppers than shoppers themselves do. Retailers crawl
through masses of data on customer behavior and then adapt their operations to maximize sales. For example, it
is a surprising fact most people instinctively turn right when entering a store; therefore, retailers put their most
profitable products on the right side of the entrance.
One of the masters of this method is Target, the American retailer that serves millions of shoppers annually and
collects terabytes of data on them. Their data analysis became so sophisticated they could even tell when
customers were pregnant and predict their due date because their shopping patterns changed and they started
buying things like prenatal vitamins. By sending them baby-related coupons, Target could effectively lure them
into their stores.
The analysis worked so well that Target actually knew a teenage girl was pregnant before she had told her
family. Target sent her baby-related coupons, prompting her father to pay the local Target manager an angry
visit: Shes still in high school Are you trying to encourage her to get pregnant?! But when the truth came
out, it was the abashed fathers turn to apologize.
But Target soon realized that people resented being spied on. For its baby coupons to work, it needed to bury
them amid random unrelated offers for things like lawnmowers; the offers had to seem like the familiar,
untargeted ones.
When trying to sell anything new, companies will dress it up in something familiar; e.g. radio DJs can guarantee a
new song becomes popular by playing it sandwiched between two existing hit songs. This way, new habits or
products are far more likely to be accepted.

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Companies take advantage of habits in their marketing.

Movements are born from strong ties, peer pressure and new habits.

In 1955, a black woman named Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat for a white man in Montgomery,
Georgia. She was arrested and charged, and the events that followed made her a civil rights icon.
Interestingly, her case was neither unique nor the first. Many others had already been arrested for the same
reason. So why did Parks arrest spark a bus boycott that lasted over a year?
First of all, Rosa Parks was especially well-liked in the community and had an unusually broad array of friends.
She belonged to many clubs and societies, and was closely connected to all kinds of people, from professors to
field hands. These so-called strong ties bailed her out of jail and rapidly spread the word of her arrest
throughout Montgomerys social strata, organizing the bus boycott as a way of protest. But her friends alone
could not have sustained a lengthy boycott.
Enter peer pressure. In addition to strong ties, social spheres also comprise weak ties, meaning acquaintances
rather than friends. It is mostly via weak ties that peer pressure is exerted. When a persons friends and
acquaintances support a movement, it is hard to opt out.
Eventually, commitment to the boycott began waning in the black community, as city officials began introducing
new carpooling rules to make life without buses increasingly difficult. This is when the final component was
added: a speech by Dr. Martin Luther King advocating non-violence and asking participants to embrace and
forgive their oppressors. Based on this message, people began to form new habits, such as independently
organizing church meetings and peaceful protests. They made the movement a self-propelling force.

We bear the responsibility for changing our habits.


One night in 2008, Brian Thomas strangled his wife to death. Distraught, he promptly turned himself in and was
prosecuted for murder. His defense? He was experiencing a sleep terror, like physically acting out a nightmare:
Thomas thought he was strangling a burglar who was attacking his wife.

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In court, the defense argued that when Thomas thought someone was hurting his wife, it triggered an automatic
response, in this case to protect her. In other words, he followed a habit.
Around the same time, Angie Bachman was sued by the casino company Harrahs for half a million dollars in
outstanding gambling debts. This was after she had already gambled away her home and million-dollar
inheritance.
In court, Bachman argued that she too was merely following a habit: gambling felt good, so when Harrahs sent
her tempting offers for free trips to the casino, she could not resist. Note that Harrahs knew she was a
compulsive gambler who had already declared bankruptcy once.
In the end, Thomas was acquitted and many, including the trial judge, expressed great sympathy for him.
Bachman, on the other hand, lost the case, and was the object of considerable public scorn.
Both Thomas and Bachman could quite plausibly claim: It wasnt me, it was my habits! So why was only one
acquitted?
Quite simply, once we become aware of a harmful habit, it becomes our responsibility to address it and change
it. Thomas didnt know he would hurt anyone in his sleep. Bachman, however, knew she had a gambling habit,
and could have avoided Harrahs offers by participating in an exclusion program that wouldve prohibited
gambling companies from marketing to her.
We bear the responsibility for changing our habits.

CLOSING NOTES
The key message in this book: Following habits is not only a key part of our lives but also a key part of
organizations and companies. All habits comprise a cue-routine-reward loop, and the easiest way to change this
is to substitute the routine for something else while keeping the cue and reward the same. Achieving lasting
change in life is difficult, but it can be done by focusing on important keystone habits such as willpower.
Closing take-aways:
-

What are habits, and why are they so hard to change? Habits are simple and enduring
cue-routine-reward loops that save effort. Habits stick because they create craving.

How can habits be changed? To change a habit, substitute the routine for another and believe in the
change. Change can be achieved by focusing on keystone habits and achieving small wins.

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How do habits manifest themselves on a larger scale in society? Organizational habits can be dangerous,
but a crisis can change them. Companies take advantage of habits in their marketing. Movements are
born from strong ties, peer pressure and new habits.

Bear in mind that if you want to change a habit, its your responsibility to do so.

###

ABOUT THE AUTHOR(s)


Charles Duhigg
Duhigg is a Pulitzer-prize-nominated investigative reporter who writes for the New York Times. He has won
numerous awards for his work and has appeared on TV shows such as Frontline and The NewsHour with Jim
Lehrer.

DEAN BOKHARI
Author + Founder of FlashNotes.com
Host of The Meaningful Show{Listen on iTunes here: http://bit.ly/1m6v5jD}
Dean Bokhari believes that everyone deserves to live an optimal lifestyle. He
believes we can change the world by doing meaningful work that serves the
greater good.

Dean teaches people and organizations how to inspire + empower people in a positive way. He is the founder of
MeaningfulHQ, a consulting firm in Orange County, CA.

With a bold mission to change the world through Leadership - Dean and the Meaningful crew are teaching leaders how
they can move the world forward and move their organizations forward - at the same time.

He speaks five languages and holds a B.S. in Political Communication from Virginia Commonwealth University, where
he also studied Philosophy. He currently resides in Brea, CA with his wife, Amna, where he is also an active supporter of
resource-based economic systems and global sustainability efforts.

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