Summary on “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg – Part 3

This is the last par (part 3) of the summary about the book “The Power of Habit” by Charless Duhigg. In this last part I will summarise the third act of the book, including an overall summary of the steps involved to get to. Please refer to the first part or the second part if you want to find out what this is all about.

Part 3:

Habits can be changed pro-actively, so there is always the choice to do something about them. The most important thing is that you create the will to believe in something, from where change will automatically follow. One of the most important methods to come to that belief is by changing your habits. If you want to do something for the first time it will require a lot of effort on your part. When you repeat the process on a consistent basis it will slowly become a habit, which in turn will be requiring less effort every time it is done until the point it will be done on autopilot. It will even come to a point where it can be done without consciousness.

From the moment we choose who we want to be, we will start growing to that path. A really nice analogy to illustrate this example is a paper which is folded a certain way. From that point on every time you try to fold that paper again it will most of the time fold back to the old fold lines. The real power of habit for me was seeing that: habits are what you choose them to be. So just start with believing in what you want to be, and the change will follow in the form of a new habit.

William James:

In the past there was a psychiatrist who was not feeling well himself. He was not sure about (his) life, and was contemplating committing suicide. The good psychiatrist he was though, he first wanted to see for a year if he really wanted to end his life. This was done by writing down every day in his diary how he was always in control of his own actions. By writing this down, he was starting to change his own beliefs and so he started to see how free will is a choice for everyone to make. This way he could not blame anyone for not being happy, but himself.

Read: The principles of psychology – William James

The framework to change habits:

  1. Identify the habit
  2. Experiment with the rewards
  3. Isolate the cue
  4. Come up with a plan

1 – Identify the habit

The base of the habit loop consists of a cue, routine and reward. To discover your own habits and to dissect them into the above steps first of all identify all components of the habit loop. In most of the cases you seek to change the routine of the loop. For example the writer of the book at one specific moment every day went to the cafeteria and bought a cookie. This made him gain weight so he decided to break this habit.

He wanted to stop this bad habit, but it was difficult. On willpower alone he could not do it, so he analysed all the steps involved. So he asked himself a couple of questions: What is the cue: was I hungry, was it boredom or was it because of low blood-sugar? After that he tried finding out what the reward was: the change of scenery, the cookie itself or maybe the distraction from work? To find this out he had to do some experiments:

2 – Experimenting with rewards
It is difficult to find out what is really the thing the habit loops reward. In an earlier example Febreze added a parfum to his up until then scentless cleaning spray. But by adding the scent to the product, people were actually believing they cleaned something and got a sort of reward when smelling the nice scent after cleaning. But the reward can be anything of course, so you have to try a lot of things to make sure you find out what the real reward is for you. This can be done by changing the reward of a certain habit loop every day for a couple of days. You want to find out the underlying cause, so in the cookie example the author tried the following: getting away from his desk, eat something else like an apple and so on.

A useful thing to do is to write down everything that pops into your mind after getting a specific reward. So just dot down everything that comes to mind, this could be emotions, random thoughts or even reflection on your feelings. Then set an alarm for 15 minutes and when the buzzer goes off just think to yourself if you would still like a cookie for example. This way you know if the chosen reward was satisfying. The capturing of your thoughts is a moment of attention. And of course it can be used to recapture the moment, if you later want to see how you felt.

3 –  Isolate the cue
The next step is one of the most difficult things to find out, because the cue is hard to identify. What you can do is every time you feel the need to do something, write down a couple of things:
Emotional state
Other people
Action before
If you write down those things you find it more easy to identify a pattern. This pattern will become visible automatically if above steps are done correctly. In the cookie example it became clear to the author that he always did want a cookie at a certain time. In step 2 it became already clear he was not hungry, so by writing down the things a couple of days he found out it was the need for a temporary distraction. So having a chat with someone in the office between 3 and 4 was the solution.

4 – Come up with a plan
The last step is to have a plan ready for the habit, so you can change the routine and still get the reward you seem to be looking for. To change this we have to make choices instead of doing everything automatically (as this is how it works when having a habit).

So in the cookie example the author set an alarm at 3:30 and when reminded he walked to a friend and chatted a bit. In the beginning this was hard, and costed a lot of effort for him. After a while it started to become more of a habit to do this instead of going to the cafeteria. The good feeling he got whenever it worked out and he didn’t bought a cookie was priceless. However it still did go wrong sometimes, but those times were getting less frequent. After a month or so, the alarm was not needed anymore and he started to go all by himself to talk to someone. This was the plan for him.

Habits cannot be changed easily, but whenever you use the above framework it will be possible to change them! Sometimes you will have to do something different and try small changes, but in the end it will always be the above steps to guide you.

The above summary of the framework is also found on the official website of the book.

Summary on “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg – Part 2

This is part 2 of the summary about the book “The Power of Habit” by Charless Duhigg. In this part I will try to describe what I have learned from the second part of the book.  If you want to read what this is all about, please refer to the first part of the summary.

Part 2:

Most of the time it is important to not try to make big changes to a habit. This is because changes are not easy if they overhaul the whole habit loop. It’s far easier just to change a little part of the routine, and thus making sure the habit actually changes over the long haul.

One of the most important things in life is willpower and self-discipline. Both are very important during the rest of your life and therefore if you can find a way to improve those qualities can be life changing. One of the best ways to improve those qualities is to create a habit that improves those qualities.

Another thing that helps changing a habit fast, is a good crisis! Whenever a crisis appears things are just more easy accepted by the people around you. Most of the time people hate changing or changes in general, but a crisis changes all! The main reason for this is that when a crisis appears it is really evident things need to change, and this makes people cooperate!

Als er verbeteringen moeten worden doorgevoerd maar de mensen willen er niet aan, dan kan een crisis heel goed helpen. Bij een crisis is het namelijk evident voor iedereen dat er iets moet veranderen. Dan willen mensen wel meedenken.

The marshmallow Example:

One of the most important experiments on behavioural science of the last century was a Stanford experiment about marshmallows. In this experiment kids were placed in a room with a marshmallow in front of them. If they managed to wait for 5 minutes without eating the marshmallow they would get another one. This is a prime example on delayed gratification, and how if successful can grant you a bigger reward.

The same kids from this experiment were tracked for years, and that led to some nice conclusions. For example the amount of time the kids could delay the gratification was directly from influence on the grades they got later in school.

The experiment also led to another conclusion and that was that you could learn to have better willpower! It is a learnable skill, the same as for example the training of a muscle will make it grow. The kids who could concentrate on other things besides the marshmallow could more easily delay their gratification. So by learning to recognise and use habits in your daily life, one could more easily delay gratification and train the willpower!

The analogy of willpower and a muscle also implies that willpower is something that is not endlessly available. So it can also run out if used to much. This was also tested in several experiments. Another experiment was that they followed a group of people who did not do any sports, and started sporting. The results from this were, that people were also having a better diet, smoked less cigarettes and more of the same stuff! The willpower they got from regular exercising helped grow the willpower muscle, and therefore got them to have better willpower in resisting other cravings.

To me the last part was one of the biggest discoveries in this part of the book. The sheer fact that willpower is a muscle, and acts in the same ways was sort of mind blowing. And if I looked back on my previous experiences indeed it seems to work that way. When doing lot’s of exercise things like eating healthier and drinking less are sort of getting easier in a way. First I thought this was due to the fact I just want to live healthier and therefore just did less of those bad habits. But after thinking about it, it is kind of a paradox, because if doing a lot of exercise you could eat more food anyway, without having problems. This is the real power of habit!

Summary on “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg – Part 1

Last weThe Power of Habit book coverek during my holiday I have read the book: “The Power of Habit – Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business” by Charles Duhigg. The book is about finding out and changing our habits. In this blogpost I will try to summarise the most important thoughts I have extracted from this book.

Part 1:

How does a habit work:

When researchers examined how a habit works they found a loop containing the following 3 steps:

  • Cue – Something is triggered and the brain picks that trigger up, and makes itself go into autopilot mode.
  • Routine – The next step is the routine (being: physical, mental or emotional). This routine is the stuff you do during your habit.
  • Reward – The reward is the thing you get for doing a specific routine. This can be a happy feeling after working out for example.
the habit loop
The habit loop

After a specific reward the brain looks if this specific “habit loop” needs to be saved, because it serves a purpose. The main thing to get from the “habit loop” is that from the moment of the cue the brain is suspended, and goes into autopilot mode. Therefore making changes to a specific (most of the time) bad habit, is difficult!

Pepsodent example:

The book gives a lot of examples of how a habit loop works, and I want to tell you about one that made it most clear to me. The Pepsodent example. Pepsodent was a company that sold toothpaste in a time when almost nobody used toothpaste. People couldn’t care less because they were not aware of the health benefits a good set of teeth has.

Claude C. Hopkins was a brilliant man in advertising at the time, and he had already made a lot of money in the advertising industry. When someone approached him to help with the selling of toothpaste he went for it. In the end he managed to get people to use toothpaste daily just by identifying the “habit loop”.

He first made sure people were aware of the cue: plaque on their teeth. From there he created a routine: toothbrushing every day with (Pepsodent) toothpaste. And as the reward he promised people the enjoyment of having clean teeth without any plaque on it. After starting to advertise this knowledge to everyone in the U.S.A. people began to pick up on the toothbrushing habit and for many people it became a habit. Also the smart people at Pepsodent added a chemical that makes your mouth feel popping after the process of toothbrushing. This was purely to make the reward feel even more rewarding, and it worked. After a few years Pepsodent was in almost every household in the whole world.

Claude C. Hopkins wrote a book about his life, and it is recommended reading: “My Life in Advertising”

Nail biting example:

As a structural nail biter the following example also made me understand more of how negative habits can be conquered. And is also something I will be working on the coming period.

  • First of all find the cue of nail biting. By just having a pen and paper with you all day and counting the moments you have the need to bite on your nails you find out what cues you to do this.
  • After that you can create a new routine, as this is the actual problem of biting your nails of course. So when urged to want to bite of your nails just put your hands under your legs for example. Any thing other then biting your nails at this point works I guess.
  • After that just record on the same piece of paper whenever your urges to bite your nails were suppressed by the new routine you have set.

After keeping the above procedure in place for the next month or so, you will see that your habit of biting your nails will be vanished. You have replaced the routine with something new, and after a while the whole habit loop gets erased!