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‘The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business’ by Charles Duhigg

March 26, 2012

Was your New Year’s resolution to get fit, to spend more time with family, or to quit smoking? It’s been already three months. How are you doing so far? If you are a part of the majority, your answer would not be great. No worries. I’m on the same boat. I can easily count a dozen of falied resolutions. Wake up early for a run. Reduce time on the Internet. Read 100 books per year. Et cetra, et cetra. You know, it’s hard!

Yes, we know it’s hard to drop a bad habit or to create a good habit. According to a research quoted in the book, up to 40% of our daily activities are controled by habits, not by a conscious decision making. 40%? You may not believe it. That’s the point. Habit is so hard to change because you don’t notice it. This book shows why these habits are so strong and how you can reprogram them.

How Target Finds a Teen Girl Pregnant Before Her Father Knows

You may have read a New York Times article ‘How Companies Learn Your Secrets‘ about Target analyzing customers’ shopping history to know who is pregnant. The article, which portrays Target and other major corporations as an Orwellian Big Brother spying you, rapidly circulated in the Social Media. The article was written by the author of this book, presumably as a mode of its promotion (which turned out to be successful for selling one more copy!)

Although the article brought a creepy face of the friendly looking giant retailer into light, that was not his theme. In the book, the author unfolds the mystery of habit – from the neuroscience level to the organizational behavior aspect – and proposes a formula to reprogram it.

How Your Brain Goes into Autopilot Habit Cycle Before You Realize

The key framework presented in the book to understand the mechanism of habit is the ‘cue – routine – reward’ cycle happening all the time in your brain. When you building a new habit, your brain associates a certain reward – physical or mental – to a specific triger or a cue. After some cycles, the steps in between, which can be sometimes quite complex, become a routine, where the brain works less actively. The more we repeat the cycle, the stronger the cue-reward assosiation becomes, encouraging the brain to save energy and go to autopilot. Here becomes a new habit. A low energy level (cue) triggers anticipation for the alartness from a nicotine intake (reward) and you will pick up a cigarette and light it up before you realize it (routine.) Voila.

How You Break the Cycle Before Your Brain Reacts

To break this cycle, you need to discover the cue and the reward. You cannot eliminate the cycle, but you can replace the routine between the cue and the reward with something else – a better routine. Whenever you feel weary (cue,) you consciously take a cop of coffee, go for a walk, or socialize with your coworkers (routine) to boost your energy level (reward.) It’s easy to replace the routine as long as you keep the same cue and reward.

You can also make a new habit by focusing on the cue and the reward. When you wake up at 6 a.m. when the alarm goes on (cue,) you start picturing yourself in a good shape on the beach (reward) and get on sneakers and go outside (routine) before your brain starts coming up excuses. Focus only on the reward and don’t let yourself wake up from the autopilot. We are very good at making up excuses – it’s too cold, it may rain, I had little sleep, I’m too tired, etc. – if we let our brain works. The point is to build an autopilot routine.

Today’s Lesson

It’s easier said than done. I should revisit this post after I complete all my New Year’s resolutions.

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