Book:  The Power of Habit

Author:  Charles Duhigg

Purchase:  PrinteBookAudiobook

Citation:  Duhigg, C. (2012). The power of habit : why we do what we do in life and business. New York: Random House.

Three Big Takeaways:

  • If you want to do something that requires willpower - like going for a run after work - you have to conserve your willpower muscle during the day. If you use it up too early on tedious tasks like writing emails and filling out complicated and boring expense forms, all the strength will be gone by the time you get home. (pg. 137)

  • Hundreds of habits influence our days - they guide how we get dressed in the morning, talk to our kids, and fall asleep at night. Each has a unique cue and offers a unique reward. Some are simple and some are complex. But every habit, no matter its complexity, is malleable. Once you understand that habit can be rebuilt, the power of habit becomes easier to grasp, and the only option left is to get to work. (pg. 271)

  • Test different hypotheses to determine which craving is driving your routine. For example, when you have a craving for food set an alarm on your watch or computer for fifteen minutes. When it goes off, ask yourself: Do you still feel the urge for that food? The point of this test is to determine the reward you're craving. If you don't still have the craving for that food, you were probably not hungry in the first place. (pg. 291)

Other Key Ideas:

  • 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. (pg. 17)

  • 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. (pg. 20)

  • When we see chicken or fries (or anything tasty) on the table, our brains being anticipating that food, even if we're not hungry. It's hard to fight this urge, and as soon as the food is eaten you feel a rush of pleasure as the craving is satisfied. (pg. 52)

  • To break a habit one idea is to carry around an index card. And each time you feel the cue, make a check on the card as a way of being acutely aware of the sensations that precede the habit. When you are able to override the habit, put a hash mark on the index card. (pg. 75)

  • Studies have shown that families who habitually eat dinner together seem to raise children with better homework skills, higher grades, greater emotional control, and more confidence. Making your bed every morning is correlated with better productivity, a greater sense of well-being, and stronger skills at sticking with a budget. It's not that a family meal or tidy bed causes better grades or less frivolous spending...but somehow those initial shifts start chain reactions that help other good habits take hold. (pg. 109)

  • Small wins are exactly what they sound like, and are part of how keystone habits create widespread changes. A huge body of research has shown that small wins have enormous power, an influence disproportionate to the accomplishments of the victories themselves. Once a small win has been accomplished, forces are set in motion that favor another small win. Small wins fuel transformative changes by leveraging tiny advantages into patterns that convince people that bigger achievements are within reach. (pg. 112)

  • Starbucks has dozens of routines that employees are taught to use during stressful times at work - or "inflection points." They practice those plans, again and again, until they become automatic. Starbucks isn't the only company to use such training methods. Deloitte Consulting trains employees in curriculum named "Moments that Matter," which focuses on inflection points such as when a client complains about fees, when a colleague is fired, or when a consultant has made a mistake. For each of these moments there are preprogrammed routines that guide employees in how they should respond. (pg. 146)

  • Giving employees a feeling that they are in control, that they have genuine decision-making authority - can radically increase how much energy and focus they bring to their jobs. (pg. 150)

  • Destructive organizational habits can be found within hundreds of industries. And almost always, they are the products of thoughtlessness, of leaders who avoid thinking about the culture and so let it develop without guidance. There are no organizations without institutional habits. There are only places where they are deliberately designed, and places where they are created without forethought, so they often grow from rivalries or fear. (pg. 159)

  • Good leaders seize crises to remake organizational habits. Wise executives seek out moments of crisis and cultivate the sense that something must change. (pg. 178)

  • The most successful dieters who maintain weight loss typically eat breakfast every morning and weigh themselves each day. Eating a healthy breakfast makes it less likely you will snack later in the day. Measuring your weight each day allows us to see how changing our diets influences pounds lost. The small win of dropping even half a pound can provide the dose of momentum we need to stick with a diet. We need to see small victories to believe a long battle will be won. (pg. 278)

  • Just sitting quietly for a few minutes feels like an accomplishment. And then you are able to go longer each day. The great thing about meditation is that once you train your brain to do it - once you get into the groove - you can do it anywhere. If you're standing in line or suddenly feel stressed you can close your eyes and take a moment to breathe, and you can feel yourself calm down. (pg. 281)

  • I realized that checking my email was limiting my productivity. There was a certain reward in checking email that was throwing off my book research and writing. So I substituted taking notes on my book for checking my email and I ended up preparing for publication in about two months, whereas before, all of that had been taking years. Just changing one aspect of my work flow - how often I checked email - make my personal productivity go up by at least 400 percent. (pg. 284)

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