“The Power of Habit”: How to Make Effective Changes

Change might not be fast and it isn’t always easy. But with time and effort, almost any habit can be reshaped. Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit

Charles Duhigg, New York Times reporter and author of The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, points out that any “habit loop” consists of a cue, a routine, and a reward. Taking alcoholism as an example of a habit/addiction, he states that groups like AA (or NA or GA, and so on) often provide a way to form new but similar habit loops.

Many alcoholics, say studies, essentially suffer from habit dysfunctions. They have learned to react to a cue (‘I’m stressed. I need to relax at a bar.’) with a routine (‘Bud Light, please.’) to receive a reward (‘I always feel better after unloading to my friends over a beer.’)

A.A. just tweaks that formula slightly. There is a still the same basic cue (‘I’m stressed. I need to relax at a meeting.’), a slightly different routine (‘My name is Jim, and I’m an alcoholic.’) and, essentially, the same reward (‘I always feel better after unloading to my friends over coffee.’)

As Kirkus Reviews points out, Duhigg’s all about the brain science: “…Duhigg demonstrates how automatic behavior, good or bad, can grow from a repeated decision that gets lodged in the basal ganglia…Animal trainers are already familiar with this information. For improvement, the trick is to keep the cue and reward, but change the routine. The belief that acquiring a new ‘keystone habit’ can really be achieved is necessary…”

David Allen, author of Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, on reviewing Duhigg: “His chapter on ‘keystone habits’ alone would justify the book.”

Selected Quotes from The Power of Habit:

The Golden Rule of Habit Change: You can’t extinguish a bad habit, you can only change it.

Habits, scientists say, emerge because the brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort.

This is the real power of habit: the insight that your habits are what you choose them to be.

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.

It is facile to imply that smoking, alcoholism, overeating, or other ingrained patters can be upended without real effort. Genuine change requires work and self-understanding of the cravings driving behaviours.

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