The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

Why We Do What We Do in Business & Life

Quotes & Anecdotes I Find Useful

The impact of this book remains with my thoughts most days of the week. In the past few years, as I have addressed my own habits in building a healthy lifestyle, his message guides my direction. Listening to this audiobook for the first time, and then a subsequent two times in a row while it was loaned to me through our local library, I took his teachings to heart. The words Charles uses to convey his understanding of the neurology behind habit formation and the subsequent expression of those habits in our lives was clear, meaningful, and changed the way I saw the world. The examples he uses to explain habit formation and common unhealthy habits are obviously relatable, and I love the matter of fact tone in the book. The historical perspective he brings into play with business and marketing sheds light on other applicable ways of understanding your own habit formation as well as those of the general populace. This plays an important role in developing your own successful path in a career or health discovery.

Information found in this book regarding habit formation, along with various other articles, are the foundation for aspects of the Be Better Empowerment Course. These concepts are the meat and potatoes behind all the effort you will put into adjusting your patterns to build the life you so desire within and beyond the course. What follows are various quotes, summaries, and poignant discussion points on habit formation in neurology. All quotes are found throughout the text of discussion.

“Habits aren’t destiny… they can be ignored, changed, or replaced.”

This sentiment is one I want you to understand and ingrain into your frame of reference now. The habits you currently hold dear, practice every day and feel you are doomed to keep repeating until your last breath are really not the end all. Your habits are adjustable. They have changed, they will change, they should change, and you are ultimately in control of those developments over time. It’s your choice whether to adhere to the familiar in all that you know or to catapult yourself into a world of what’s different, new and possibly better for your future.

“Habits, scientists 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.”

From an evolutionary standpoint, it makes sense that we would create habits throughout our life. When we wake up in the morning, we shouldn’t have to newly re-experience getting out of bed, showering, brushing our teeth, making coffee, or waking up the kids every day. We’d take hours to relearn each of these activities, and spend more time than needed on what to do next. In order to survive in this world, we’ve got to train our minds to perform various tasks and activities without all the mental effort of performing the activity initially. As we move through life, we create these habits as a way of deferring our decision-making faculties for more important topics of consideration – such as whether to get sushi or sandwiches for lunch. Or maybe whether to quit your job and start freelancing. Some of these habits are inconsequential, like brushing your teeth. But some are more impactful, such as turning on the television first thing when you get home or reaching for a cookie as a mid afternoon snack (a great experimental story in the book). Are you aware of the habits you currently have guiding you through your own day?

“… the brain stops participating in decision making. It stops working so hard, or diverts focus to other tasks. So unless you deliberately fight a habit – unless you find new routines – the pattern will unfold automatically.”

These habits we’ve developed happen without recognition, without acknowledgement. They take over our physical bodies as we move right through them without thinking twice. In the Be Better Empowerment program, we determine how we’re going to interrupt these patterns and discuss these tactics. You have to fight to make these changes at first, but over time they become more natural as your body becomes accustomed to its new routine.

“Your brain can’t tell the difference between bad and good habits, so it’s easy to fall back into the old habits, because they’re always in the pathways of your brain. This explains why it’s so hard to create exercise habits, for instance, or change what we eat. Once we develop a routine of sitting on the couch, rather than running, or snacking whenever we pass a doughnut box, those patterns always remain inside our heads. By the same rule, though, if we learn to create new neurological routines that overpower those behaviors- if we take control of the habit loop – we can force those bad tendencies into the background.”

Habits are not easy to adjust, nor are they sexy to try and change. They’re the nitty gritty or building blocks of a healthy lifestyle, and they’re downright no fun to address. But if we’re going to see success in building a path to health, then we’ve got to do the work. It’s easy to stay in a routine. It’s why we have so many dissatisfied workers staying at jobs, because it’s stable or because it “pays the bills.” These people aren’t particularly happy, but they’re doing okay. They’re living the status quo. Your habits are the status quo. Your habits are what may be holding you back from living the life you ultimately desire. They’re the daily must-dos and the same old same old you’ve been doing for years. They’re the daily tasks that keep you from getting out and making a difference. They’re what’s weighing you down and keeping you in a rut. Want to get out of that rut? Want to move above and beyond the ‘okay’ mentality? Then you must address your habits in a clear, definitive way.

“Genuine change requires work and self-understanding of the cravings driving behaviors. Changing any habit requires determination.”

You have to put in the work. It’s not difficult to break down why you do what you do, but it does take time. No one is going to do it for you. If you have any determination or intention to change, then you must put in the effort to do so. You’ve got to commit the time and let your discovery become a new habit. Fortunately, the Be Better Empowerment course guides you through this process, so you aren’t alone.

“The evidence is clear: If you want to change a habit, you must find an alternative routine, and your odds of success go up dramatically when you commit to changing as part of a group. Belief is essential, and it grows out of a communal experience, even if that community is only as large as two people.”

By coming together as a community, you are able to rely on the support of your fellow members to drive you in the right direction. Belief in yourself isn’t always easy. When you have others that hold you accountable and believe in your ability to change, you are more likely to succeed in reaching your goals. When you celebrate with friends, your happiness is also exponentially more so than celebrating your own success by yourself. Find a group, build a team, and forge ahead with like-minded people.

“No matter how strong our willpower, we’re guaranteed to fall back into our old ways once in awhile. But if we plan for those relapses – if we take steps to make sure those slips don’t become habit – it’s easier to get back on track.”

An important part of your work to change habits is planning for failures and challenges. A plan of recourse in action and knowing it’s okay to slip up is important in heading into change. Know that everyone has missteps and makes mistakes. You are no different. I am no different. We all make choices we’re not happy about later on, and we all have habits in place that are not healthy. In order to overcome these setbacks, we can plan accordingly; however we must not berate ourselves for these missteps. These “relapses” are a natural part of life and as a human, you are expected to encounter these obstacles in life. Instead of getting caught up in them, allow yourself the mistake and move on. Pick yourself back up, and don’t allow yourself the negative self-talk of chastising your slip up. You can do it.

Food Related Discussion
“Consider fast food, for instance. It makes sense – when the kids are starving and you’re driving home after a long day – to stop, just this once, at McDonald’s or Burger King. The meals are inexpensive. It tastes so good. After all, one dose of processed meat, salty fries, and sugary soda poses a relatively small health risk, right? It’s not like you do it all the time.”

Unfortunately that “once in a while” concept doesn’t exactly work, and large fast food corporations are banking on that. Notice how easy they are, how accessible, how simple the menus are and how downright addictive the foods can be. This is not by coincidence. They know that you are tired, that you’re busy and that you want the easiest solution to your problem. They’ve laid everything out for you to fall into a habit with little to no obstacle – no excuse you can provide to avoid these tendencies. So don’t start in the first place. And if you already have, let’s work to shift this go-to meal. You have the power to notice these habits and change them.

“Habits emerge without our permission. Studies indicate that families usually don’t intend to eat fast food on a regular basis. What happens is that once a month pattern slowly becomes once a week, and then twice a week – as the cues and rewards create a habit – until the kids are consuming an unhealthy amount of hamburgers and fries. When researchers at the University of North Texas and Yale tried to understand why families gradually increased their fast food consumption, they found a series of cues and rewards that most customers never knew were influencing their behaviors. They discovered the habit loop.”

You may not even be realizing what you’re doing while you’re doing it. It’s easy to slip into these patterns without even noticing and until you take the time to step back, they’ll continue to work their habitual routine. Take the time to pause, ask yourself what the reality is of your eating habits. Maybe it’s not fast food, but maybe you’re reaching for dessert after every meal as a “sweet treat.” Maybe you have a processed grain with every meal. Did you know how much you’ve actually been consuming, or has it snuck up on you? Realization and acknowledgement is the first step in understanding what is taking place in reality. Only then can you begin to address changing anything.

“Want to craft a new eating habit? When researchers affiliated with more than six thousand people who have lost more than thirty pounds – looked at the habits of successful dieters, they found that 78 percent of them ate breakfast every morning, a meal cued by a time of day. But most of the successful dieters also envisioned a specific reward for sticking with their diet – a bikini they wanted to wear or the sense of price they felt when they stepped on the scale each day – something they chose carefully and really wanted. They focused on craving for that reward when temptations arose, cultivated the craving into a mild obsession. And their cravings for that reward, researchers found, crowded out the temptation to drop the diet. The craving drove the habit loop.”

What’s the takeaway here? Well, yes – eat breakfast. Start your day nourished with something savory, and you’re more likely to choose healthy options throughout the day maintaining a healthy, stable blood sugar. But also, set into mind what it is you really want out of life, and begin to integrate that into your own habit loop as your reward. Do you have a specific goal that you’re looking to reach by switching up your eating habits? Maybe not even weight loss, but mental clarity or energy maintenance through the afternoon. Maybe your goal is to avoid developing Type II Diabetes, Cardiovascular Disease, Atherosclerosis, Osteoporosis, or many other lifestyle-related illnesses. Let these goals become your driving factor as you let go of your physiological cravings.

“If you want to lose weight, study your habits to determine why you really leave your desk for a snack each day, and then find someone else to take a walk with you, to gossip with at their desk rather than in the cafeteria, a group that tracks weight-loss goals together, or in someone who also wants to keep a stock of apples, rather than chips nearby.”

Determine your why. Why are you initiating that habit in the first place? We have to do the research in order to determine your cue, because it’s simply not going to be the same as anyone else’s. It’s specific to you, and we can work together to determine how to shift that habit using your daily routines as an experiment.

Exercise Related Discussion
“Studies of people who have successfully started new exercise routines, for instance, show they are more likely to stick with a workout plan if they choose a specific cue, such as running as soon as they get home from work, and a clear reward, such as a beer or an evening of guilt-free television. Research on dieting says creating new food habits requires a predetermined cue – such as planning menus in advance – and simple rewards for dieters when they stick to their intentions.”

Planning ahead will increase your chances of success when starting a new routine of any kind. Knowing when you’re going to work out, laying out the clothes in advance and having the alarm set in your phone. Make it impossible to avoid and you will make it happen. You will consistently feel better for it every time. If you don’t feel like it, start exercising telling yourself you’ll do five minutes, and stop if you want. Chances are you aren’t going to want to stop, because getting started is more than half the battle. Start and you will continue. Exercising releases chemicals in the brain that literally make you feel better and can provide a sense of accomplishment. You will learn to crave and expect that physiological reward over time.

“Anyone can use this basic formula to create habits of her or his own. Want to exercise more? Choose a cue, such as going to the gym as soon as you wake up, and a reward, such as a smoothie after each workout. Then think about that smoothie, or about the endorphin rush you’ll feel. Allow yourself to anticipate the reward. Eventually, that craving will make it easier to push through the gym doors every day.”

Make your rewards healthy in nature, so they will still give you that sense of accomplishment or chemical enjoyment that your body is craving. Keep at it, and you can develop a healthy lifestyle routine of your own.

Duhigg’s book packs a powerful message about the reality of healthy habits, and it is a recommended read if you’re able to pick it up. Consider for yourself what it takes to shift your habits. You’ve already begun by thinking about your day-to-day. That’s the first step. Now with a little attention to detail and some experimentation, you will be able to make the shifts in your life you desire, rebuilding pathways in your brain and rewiring your life to fit your desires.

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