The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life And Business by Charles Duhigg
- 📕 The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg – Book Summary
- 🎧 The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg – Audiobook Summary
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 discover the neuroscience behind how habits work and precisely which parts of the brain they develop and reside within. 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 we learn how a large corporation managed to turn 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 are about understanding how habits work. By harnessing this new science, we can transform our businesses, our communities, and our lives.
Here’s what you’ll learn about in this summary:
- How cravings create and power new habits.
- How to apply the golden rule of habit change.
- Why the brain tries to make routines into habits.
- What “keystone habits” are and the importance of them in creating a new routine.
We become what we repeatedly do. An extraordinary life, then, depends upon extraordinary habits. —Click to tweet
“When a habit emerges, the brain stops fully 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.”
“Willpower isn’t just a skill. It’s a muscle, like the muscles in your arms or legs, and it gets tired as it works harder, so there’s less power left over for other things.”
“This is how willpower becomes a habit: by choosing a certain behavior ahead of time, and then following that routine when an inflection point arrives.”
- How Habits Emerge
- The Habit Loop: Cue + Routine + Reward
- Find A Cue + Define The Rewards
- The Golden Rule Of Habit Change
- You’ve Gotta Believe That Change Is Possible
- Leverage Keystone Habits
- Making Keystone Habits Work
- Habits Can Change
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 they’re not. They’re 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 weren’t 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.
This book is grounded in so much sound scientific evidence it’ll make your head spin. From case studies, to interviews, to on-sight research projects at some of the world’s greatest companies—Duhigg worked hard not to leave any stone unturned when it came to helping us understand the mechanics of habits.
Habits, by definition, are choices that we all make deliberately at some point—and then stop thinking about but continue doing, often every day.
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. But then we stopped making a choice, and the behavior became automatic. It’s a natural consequence of our neurology…
And by understanding how it happens, you can rebuild those patterns in whichever way you choose.
So, are you ready to dive into learning how to make that happen? Let’s begin with our first big idea…
1. HOW HABITS EMERGE
“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. An efficient brain requires less room, which makes for a smaller head, which makes childbirth easier and therefore causes fewer infant and mother deaths. An efficient brain also allows us to stop thinking constantly about basic behaviors, such as walking and choosing what to eat, so we can devote mental energy to inventing spears, irrigation systems, and, eventually, airplanes and video games.”
In the book, Duhigg describes a series of experiments run by researchers at MIT on the science of habit formation.
The researchers were running these experiments on groups of rats—dropping them into mazes and making them sniff around for a piece of chocolate placed at the end.
They wanted to monitor brain activity in the rats as they moved about the maze, so they inserted super-tiny micro-sensors in their brains. This, helped the researchers determine which parts of the brain would light up when the rats were running through the maze—which would help them understand how the brain forms habits.
So, they begin the experiment…
And at first, it seemed like the rats weren’t really doing anything interesting at all. They’d start at the beginning of the maze, sniff around, scratch the walls a bit, and randomly pause every now and then before moving through the maze again.
But then the researchers noticed something big: each time the rats moved from one end of the maze to the other; they sniffed around a little less, scratched the walls a little less, and paused a little less—thus, moving through the maze faster and faster with each run.
After running the rats through the maze several times, they learned that the mental activity decreased in the rats with each successful navigation through the maze. As the route became more and more automatic, the rats were actually thinking less about how to get through the maze… No more sniffing, scratching, and pausing necessary. Now, they could speed from start to finish hardly without thinking at all.
The researchers found, that this automaticity in the rats relied on a part of the brain called the basal ganglia, which took over as the rat ran faster and faster and its brain worked less and less.
The basal ganglia was central to recalling patterns and acting on them.
In other words, it’s responsible for storing habits even while the rest of the brain falls asleep.
And your brain works the same way.
This process is called “chunking,” and it plays a primary role in how habits form. With “chunking,” the brain converts a sequence of actions—like brushing your teeth, tying your shoes, or backing your car into the garage—into an automatic routine.
Bottom line? Habits emerge because our brains are always on the lookout for efficient ways to save effort.
So, how do we form habits, then?
2. THE HABIT LOOP: CUE + ROUTINE + REWARD
“This process within our brains is a three-step loop. First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future.”
If you want to create new habits of any kind, keep the following formula in mind:
CUE + ROUTINE + REWARD = HABIT
New habits depend on this three-step loop:
- The cue—a trigger for your brain that tells it which habit to use.
- The routine—how a habit influences what you do, think, or feel.
- The reward—which helps us determine how valuable the habit is, and whether it’s worth remembering or not.
We’ll dive into the details of this loop as we move into the next few big ideas in this summary of the Power of Habit…
3. FIND A CUE + DEFINE THE REWARDS
“If you want to start running each morning, it’s essential that you choose a simple cue (like always lacing up your sneakers before breakfast or leaving your running clothes next to your bed) and a clear reward (such as a midday treat, a sense of accomplishment from recording your miles, or the endorphin rush you get from a jog). But countless studies have shown that a cue and a reward, on their own, aren’t enough for a new habit to last. Only when your brain starts expecting the reward—craving the endorphins or sense of accomplishment—will it become automatic to lace up your jogging shoes each morning. The cue, in addition to triggering a routine, must also trigger a craving for the reward to come.”
The key to creating habits is based on a simple formula any one of us can adopt. Let’s say you want to create the habit of working out first thing in the morning:
– You begin by choosing a cue, like keeping your gym shoes by the door.
– Then you choose a clear reward, like a smoothie after each workout.
– Finally, you allow yourself to crave/anticipate that reward, by thinking about the smoothie you’ll get to enjoy once you’re done crushing it in the gym.
The simple addition of a craving could be what makes the difference between whether you get up and hit the gym, or hit snooze and bury yourself back under the sheets.
Cravings drive habits. And figuring out what sparks your cravings is what can make creating a habit easier for you.
Think of a habit you want to create, and write it down: ______________________________________________
Next, think of your cue. Write it down. ______________________________________________
Now, think of your reward. Write it down. ______________________________________________
Finally, remember to make sure the reward is something you’ll be able to crave or anticipate as you create this new habit.
4. THE GOLDEN RULE OF HABIT CHANGE
“His coaching strategy embodied an axiom, a Golden Rule of habit change that study after study has shown is among the most powerful tools for creating change. Dungy recognized that you can never truly extinguish bad habits. Rather, to change a habit, you must keep the old cue and deliver the old reward, but insert a new routine. That’s the rule: If you use the same cue and provide the same reward, you can shift the routine and change the habit. Almost any behavior can be transformed if the cue and reward stay the same.”
The coach we’re talking about in the aforementioned quote is Tony Dungy, the only coach in NFL history to reach the play-offs in 10 consecutive years, the first African American coach to win a Super Bowl, and one of the most respected figures in professional athletics.
He also turned the Tampa Bay Buccaneers into one of the NFL’s most successful teams of their time by applying what’s become known as the “Golden Rule of Habit Change.” And his approach can help you make lasting change, too.
Surprisingly, the secret to Dungy’s success was not creating new habits. It was about changing old ones.
And the way he did that, was by using what was already in his player’s heads.
As we now know, habits are based on a three-step loop—the cue, the routine, and the reward—but Dungy was only focused on one of those steps: the routine.
He knew it was easier to persuade someone to do something different—to adopt a new behavior—if there was already something familiar at the beginning and end. Which brings us back to the rule: if you use the same cue and provide the same reward, you can shift the routine and change the habit. Almost any behavior can be transformed if the cue and reward stay the same.
But there’s another big piece of the puzzle we need to address when it comes to applying the Golden Rule effectively enough to create lasting change…
5. YOU’VE GOTTA BELIEVE THAT CHANGE IS POSSIBLE
“There is, unfortunately, no specific set of steps guaranteed to work for every person. We know that a habit cannot be eradicated—it must, instead, be replaced. And we know that habits are most malleable when the Golden Rule of habit change is applied. If we keep the same cue and the same reward, a new routing can be inserted. But that’s not enough. For a habit to stay changed, people must believe change is possible. And, most often, that belief only emerges with the help of a group.”
One of the reasons AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) has been so successful throughout the years is because it taps into the power of community—it brings together groups of people overcoming the same problem, and then uses that common interest as a springboard for them to support one another and hold each other accountable.
In fact, the final step in the famous 12-Step AA process, is about giving back, mentoring, or supporting a new or struggling member of AA.
The help of a group can be vital when we’re trying to make a positive change in our lives. And it doesn’t matter if that’s a group of two—as is often the case when we find a “gym buddy” to workout with. Or whether that’s a group of people who meet up every week to discuss business ideas.
Regardless of what we’re trying to do in life, we can strengthen our belief-power by seeking out a group with similar interests.
So, what groups could you join?
6. LEVERAGE KEYSTONE HABITS
“…some habits have the power to start a chain reaction, changing other habits as they move through an organization. Some habits, in other words, matter more than others in remaking businesses and lives. These are “keystone habits,” and they can influence how people work, play, live, spend and communicate. Keystone habits start a process that, over time, transforms everything.”
Keystone habits are like the 80/20 Principle—it’s about identifying the vital few that can have the greatest net-net impact on everything else.
Studies show that waking up and making your bed every morning can lead to higher levels of productivity throughout the day.
Studies also show that families that eat dinner together raise children with better grades.
(Giving credence to the old axiom, “a family that eats together, stays together!”)
It’s not that making your bed leads to more productivity, or eating dinner with mom and dad leads to making the honor roll. It’s that these habits create chain reactions that help other good habits take hold—and that’s why they’re called keystone habits.
As Duhigg tells us in the book: “Where should a would-be habit master start? Understanding keystone habits holds the answer to that question: The habits that matter most are the ones that, when they start to shift, dislodge and remake other patterns.”
What’s your keystone habit? What’s the one big habit that you could start or stop, that could have the greatest positive impact on your life? Is it exercising? Is it reading more? Eating healthier? Quitting smoking?—What is it? Take a few minutes to think and reflect, and then write it down.
What’s the one keystone habit you’re committed to working on? ______________________________________________
Here’s an example, along with a potential result, for this actionable insight…
EXAMPLE: WHAT’S THE ONE KEYSTONE HABIT YOU’RE COMMITTED TO WORKING ON?
– EXAMPLE ANSWER: Wake up early + exercise 5 days a week.
– POTENTIAL RESULT: Starting my new gym (keystone) habit has increased my energy, which has had a positive impact on my productivity, which has helped me get more done at work, which has helped me make more money. If those benefits weren’t enough, because I started exercising, I began making better decisions about what I eat, which also helped me realize I should probably cut down the number of beers I drink per week by at least half. Finally, if all THAT weren’t enough, I’m even starting to feel more confident in myself when it comes to finding a girlfriend.
– EXPLANATION: Of course, this was just an example, and, as the infomercials tell us—individual results may vary—but doesn’t it give you a better idea behind how keystone habits work? You can experience the same potential results as the example we just mentioned. So, if you haven’t already done so, go ahead and pick your highest leverage keystone habit and start getting to work!
7. MAKING KEYSTONE HABITS WORK
“As people strengthened their willpower muscles in one part of their lives— in the gym, or a money management program—that strength spilled over into what they ate or how hard they worked. Once willpower became stronger, it touched everything.”
In the previous big idea, we discussed keystone habits, and in the actionable insight, you went ahead and chose one of your own (right?) … Now, we’ll dive into an example of the entire routine so that you can really make whichever positive change you want to make in your life a lasting one.
Let’s bring back the habit loop (Cue + Routine + Reward) and tie it into your keystone habit in this final actionable insight.
Think about the keystone habit you’ve decided to focus on—the one thing you’ll do that can have the greatest positive impact on your life (or work). Next, write down your current Cue + Routine + Reward combo. And finally, finish by writing down your new Cue + Routine + Reward combo to help you reshape your habits for the better. Here’s an example to get you started.
EXAMPLE: WHICH KEYSTONE HABIT WILL YOU FOCUS ON?
Keystone habit: Wake up early + exercise 5 days a week
Old (negative) habit loop:
– CUE: Fail to wake up early.
– ROUTINE: Miss the gym 80% of the time as a result of not waking up on time.
– REWARD: Extra sleep.
New (positive) habit loop:
– CUE: Set my alarm clock for 5:30am
– ROUTINE: Rise immediately upon hearing my alarm clock, and get up early enough so that I have at least 90 minutes to go to the gym and come back home with enough time to get ready for work.
– REWARD: Awesome-tasting chocolate protein shake immediately after my workout.
Now it’s your turn…
WHICH KEYSTONE HABIT WILL YOU FOCUS ON?
Keystone habit: ______________________________________________
Old/current (negative) habit loop:
– CURRENT CUE: ______________________________________________
– CURRENT ROUTINE: ______________________________________________
– CURRENT REWARD: ______________________________________________
New (positive) habit loop:
– NEW CUE: ______________________________________________
– NEW ROUTINE: ______________________________________________
– NEW REWARD: ______________________________________________
8. HABITS CAN CHANGE
“Hundreds of habits influence our days—they guide how we get dressed in the morning, talk to our kids, and fall asleep at night; they impact what we eat for lunch, how we do business, and whether we exercise or have a beer after work. Each of them has a different cue and offers a unique reward. Some are simple and others are complex, drawing upon emotional triggers and offering subtle neurochemical prizes. But every habit, no matter its complexity, is malleable. The most addicted alcoholics can become sober. The most dysfunctional companies can transform themselves. A high school dropout can become a successful manager. However, to modify a habit, you must decide to change it. You must consciously accept the hard work of identifying the cues and rewards that drive the habits’ routines, and find alternatives. You must know you have control and be self-conscious enough to use it—and every chapter in this book is devoted to illustrating a different aspect of why that control is real.”
Habits are malleable. They can be changed and modified.
But it’s up to YOU to decide to make that change.
That means working hard to identify the cues and rewards that drive the routines behind your habits… And then finding alternatives to help you make the change.
But the bottom line is this: change is possible. And it’s all under your conscious control to choose whether you want to develop the habits to help yourself make the changes you deserve and desire in life.
Let’s close out this book summary with one last crucial quote to help us bring the big ideas home:
“Once you understand that habits can change, you have the freedom—and the responsibility—to remake them. Once you understand that habits can be rebuilt, the power of habit becomes easier to grasp, and the only option left is to get to work.”
About the author:
- Charles Duhigg is a Pulitzer Prize–winning business reporter for The New York Times. Connect and learn more about him at: charlesduhigg.com