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The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

Habits are powerful but delicate. They can appear outside our consciousness or can be deliberate. Although habits seem automatic, and to a large extent, a product of a series of sometimes conscious or unconscious actions, the good news is that they are not impossible to change.

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Reading has the potential power to re-invent lives.  However, it is quite sad to say that not many people in the United States enjoy reading.  According to the data that was released by the Pew Research Center in 2015 on American reading habits , it is sad to say that the reading habits of Americans are fast declining.  According to this study, only 72 percent of American adults took time to read just a book in 2015—a continuous gradual decline when compared to 79 percent in 2011.  Our Book Reviews category is our contribution towards helping to reverse this sorry trend and habit.   Today on the Oaekpost Book Review Bookshelf, we will be reviewing the book, The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.

A primer that will help you restructure your habit.

“Good habits formed at youth make all the difference.” — Aristotle

Hindsight they say is 50/50.  The worst phrase anyone can use in life is, “If I had known, I would have made a different choice.”  No one wants to live a life that is perpetually full of regrets.  At some point in your life-walk, you will a need to reflect on your choices.  To take a mental journey to assess the things you did right or wrong—call it a self-SWOT analysis if you will, where you evaluate your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.  Self-reflection is a crucial tool in assessing yourself to understand your past, to re-evaluate your present, and possibly re-create your future.  Self-reflection allows you to look for clues to identify the habits, critical behavioral patterns and character influencers that have formed your choices so that you can make more proactive decisions going forward.

At this juncture, you come to the realization that where you are currently situated in life is only a product of the choices that you have made in the past.  That is why we are calling out self-reflection as a crucial tool in personal self-assessment.  You take stock of things that have happened in your past in other to re-invent your “now;” which propels you to change your tomorrow.  Look at your life—x-ray your past, present, as you think about your future—the fact is that there are some things you might have done that you wish you had not done or would want to stop doing.  Changing old habits and developing new ones can be as tough as trying to remove a stubborn nail from a wooden beam.  You might have tried several times to break a bad habit, but the effort to re-invent yourself without encouragement might leave you feeling frustrated.

New positive habits are the catalysts for change

The difficulty inherent in single-handedly trying to change a bad habit is that if you don’t stay consistent, over time, without you knowing it, these negative patterns might begin to resurface.  In the advent of this resurgence, you relapse and get back to doing the very things that you may have been investing a lot of time to break away from.  A lot of people get on the bandwagon of changing a habit but quickly fall off from it because they failed to sustain their resilience towards continuing the journey of transformation.  Habits are powerful but delicate.  They can appear outside our consciousness or can be deliberate.  Although habits seem automatic, and to a large extent, a product of a series of sometimes conscious or unconscious actions, the good news is that they are not impossible to change.

“Your net worth to the world is usually determined by what remains after your bad habits are subtracted from your good ones.” — Benjamin Franklin

Habits shape our fate.  We see on many occasions that people don’t live the way they want.  In various instances, a lot of people don’t eat, sleep, exercise, parent, or work the way they know they should, because of the habit they have cultivated.  Bad habits have the power to impale a bright future.  On the contrary, a good habit has the potential to propel us towards a destiny that we would end up being proud of.  With the Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg empowers the reader to see that you can change those habits that have negatively affected your life.  So, don’t lose faith—stay motivated and stay on the wagon of change—don’t fall off.  Remember that motivation is what spurs you on to get started on the journey of transformation, and a habit is what keeps you going.  Always remember that “Determination today will lead to success tomorrow.”

Habit is the fuel that keeps you going.

Habits can be used to form meaningful results for individuals, organizations, and societies.  Habits are also acquired behavior patterns that are regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary.  They become automatic responses that often operate without our conscious awareness and can be extremely hard to change.  For instance, you cannot order people to change their character instantaneously.  They will most likely rebel for that is not how the brain functions unless it has been conditioned to follow orders like a soldier.  It takes a while to form or break a habit, many say 21 days, and some say 66 days. Whether it takes 21, 66, or 250 days, the journey towards changing a habit starts from day one.

In Charles Duhigg’s engaging opus, “The Power of Habit,” he does due diligence in investigating how habits form, how to cultivate new habits, and how to change old ones.  In helping readers address all areas of their lives, he prudently divides the book into three sections starting the one closest to home—you, as an individual—it all begins with you, the man, woman, or child in the mirror.  He then cleverly moves to the broader world of organizations and finally narrows the focus to societies.  We will now delve into the several summaries from each chapter of the book.

Chapter 1: The Habit Loop—How Habit Works

Closed loop or negative feedback mindset concept.

When a habit bubbles up to the surface, the brain restrains itself from fully engaging in the decision-making process.  It ceases to work so hard or redirects focus to other tasks.  So, unless you deliberately fight a habit, unless you find new routines—the pattern will unfold automatically in a repetitive vicious cycle.  Habits never really disappear.  Once perfected, they become engraved into the structures of our brain like ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs set in stone. These patterns are at the root of how we behave.

Chapter 2: The Craving Brain—How to Create New Habits

Endorphin, the eclair of a sense of accomplishment

Habits create neurological cravings.  As we associate cues with specific rewards, a subconscious yearning emerges in our mind that starts the habit loop spinning.  Habit becomes automatic when the brain anticipates reward—an endorphin rush or a sense of accomplishment—in pushing beyond the pain of a depriving urge.  Craving is what drives and feeds a habit.

Chapter 3: The Golden Rule of Habit Change—Why Transformation Occurs

Understand why transformation occurs

Often, you don’t understand the craving driving your behavior until you search them out.  To ensure that a habit stays changed, and transformation occurs, people must believe in the possibility of the change.  Though it is easy to decide to break or develop a habit or practice, this does not necessarily follow that it will be easy to accomplish.  However, at the same time, becoming aware of your patterns and their cues is a great leap towards gaining control over them.  Once you become acquainted of how your habit operates; once you understand its cues and rewards, you are halfway on the path towards changing it.

Chapter 4: Keystone Habits—Which Habits Matter Most

Embrace keystone habits

Habits come in degrees—some habits matter more than others when it comes to redefining lives and businesses.  These are Keystone or Foundational Habits or Customs, and they wield a potent power when it comes to influencing how people operate in their individual and professional lives, what they eat, how people play, live, spend their resources, and communicate with others.  Keystone habits mark the inception of a process that transforms everything over a period.  Keystone habits state that achieving progress doesn’t rest on getting everything accurate, but first rests on identifying a few key priorities and modeling them into power levels.

Chapter 5: The Habit of Success—When Willpower Becomes Automatic

Will power is self-discipline, determination, self-control.

Willpower can be defined in many ways: as self-discipline, determination, self-control.  More technically, it is the capacity to hold off short-term satisfaction in other to reach long-term goals.  It is the ability to override an unwanted impulse and regulation of the self.  Willpower is a vital keystone habit for individual success.  If they have a hint that they are completing a required or delegated task for personal reasons, or if it feels like it’s a choice or something they enjoy because it helps someone else—it’s much less tasking to accomplish.  However, if they feel like they have no autonomy, and are just following orders in a transactional process, their willpower-muscles get tired much faster.  Willpower is a learnable skill.  It is an ability that can be self-taught.  It isn’t just a craft.  It’s comparable to the human muscle, and it gets fatigued as it works harder and harder, so there’s less stamina left for other things.  Once willpower increases its strength, it touches everything else that surrounds it.

“Patterns of repetition govern each day, week, year, and lifetime. ‘Personal habits’ is one term we use to describe the most common of these repeated patterns. But I say these habits are sacred because they give deliberate structure to our lives. Structure gives us a sense of security. And that sense of security is the ground of meaning.” — Robert Fulghum

Chapter 6: The Power of Crisis—Creating Habits Through Accident and Design

The crèche of change is crises.

Crises are moments in the life of organizations, which make change possible in the first place.  The crèche of change is crises.  Good leaders seize the period the company is in crisis to remake organizational habits.  Crises offer proactive organizations various valuable change management and process optimization opportunities.  It is a place of change, innovation, and improvisation.  A company with dysfunctional habits will baulk at participating in any new change process just because a leader orders it.  Instead, wise executives seek out moments of crisis or create the perception of a looming disaster to cultivate the need that something must change.  This ruse would continue until everyone’s buys-into the organization’s new goal. 

For instance, Tata Motors’ passenger vehicle (PV) business experienced a crisis in their industry.  The executives resorted to the “GEAR” (Generate idea, evaluate, action and realize the idea) Logic strategy as an avenue to help the organization experience a turnaround that has helped the company bounce back distinctively to an ochroid point of reckoning in the PV market.  They keep their staff in a permanent state of paranoia, keeping them productive by continually reminding of the past crises that the company experienced when their PV market took a plunge.  Individuals and organizations alike need to capitalize on crises as an avenue to forge creative solutions to rescue them from the crisis-shipwreck that they experienced. 

Chapter 7: When Companies Predict and Manipulate Habits

Predictive Analytics—the gear wheels of understanding habits.

Over the past twenty years, companies are now leaning heavily on big data to predict more accurately the buying habits of consumers in the marketplace (i.e., predictive analytics).  The realization emanating from these metrics is that most consumers make purchasing decisions the moment a customer sees a product.  Companies can use the information that they collate about customers to model their marketing plans on the behavior of these customers.  They use these habitual behaviors in the architectonic and modular layout or design of their stores—guiding the unwary and unsuspecting customer through the store.  The goal is to feed the impulsive cravings of the customer so that he or she ends up buying and spending more than they initially anticipated upon entering the store.

Companies that use these advanced data mining techniques also found something else that is crucial to their marketing success.  They found that when people go through significant life events, they often change their purchasing habits.  Big data helps companies predict and manipulate buyers purchasing habits for profit aggrandizement purposes.  For instance, they rely on big data to monitor the mobile browsing habits of consumers.  Have you ever suddenly stumbled over an ad relating to some merchandise of interest while phubbing through your phone or tablet device?  There is nothing sudden about it at all—your past mobile browsing history and habit is being steadily mined by organizations for suggestive marketing purposes.  If they can learn and predict your habits, the better they are able to pitch products to you that align with your characteristic behavior—their goal is to capitalize on your cravings in other to grow their earnings. 

Another instance is the Coca Cola’s “Happiness in a bottle” marketing campaign.  This campaign presupposes that regardless of any changing life event you go through, the memory of that event won’t be complete without a Coca-Cola.  How’s that for a marketing campaign?  Organizations mine the customary behaviors of consumers to further their cause and enshrine their brands in the hearts of consumers.  Habit is powerful, and companies are capitalizing on it to increase their earnings.  The more reason for people to realize the power of mannerisms.  Coming to this reality will help people curb their excesses or seek out avenues to change their bad habits before it brings them to ruin.  The truth is that companies will not be stopping any time soon with their predictions or attempts to sway customers.  After all, advertisement, they say, is the right to choose—and it sure is.

Chapter 8: How Movements Happen

Social habits of friendships can build a culture

The inception of a movement commences because of the social habits of friendships and the strong ties that spawn between close acquaintances.  It grows because of the practices of a community and the relationships that hold neighborhoods and clans together.  It endures because a movement’s leader gives participants new habits that create a fresh sense of identity—a culture—and a feeling of ownership.  Our most profound relationships tend to be with people who look like us, earn about the same amount of money or come from a similar background. 

For an idea to develop past a community, it must become self-propelling.  The reliable way to achieve that is to give people new habits that help them figure out where to go on their own.  Movements don’t emerge because everyone suddenly decides to face the same direction at once.  They rely on social patterns that begin as the habit of friendships.  It then grows through the practices of communities, being sustained by new habits that change the participant’s sense of self.

Many movements start spontaneously, without anyone deliberately or even unintentionally initiating them, without also building on the strong ties of friendships.  Living in an era dominated by technology helps the spawning of the habit of campaigns.  However, for the movement to stay alive and grow, members of a population need to feel like “everyone” is getting involved.  Campaigns form the bedrock of influence marketing.

Chapter 9: The Neurology of Free Will—Are We Responsible for Our Habits?

The words Free Will written in vintage letterpress type

Once you recognize that habits can change, you have the liberty and the capacity to remake them if you so choose.  If you believe you can change, if you make it a habit—the change becomes a reality.  This inherent ability to decide to change your life and see the actual effect in your daily experiences is the real power of habit—an insight that your pattern of behavior is what you choose them to be.  Once that choice occurs and becomes automatic it does not only become real; it starts to seem inevitable—the neurology of free will in action.

The Death Crawl scene from Facing the Giants

Charles Duhigg’s “The Power of Habit” does a great job in elucidating into the power that habits can wield in the life of an individual, organization or even in the society.  In the first chapter, we saw habit can quickly form a vicious cycle (i.e., the Habit Loop) when it gains its footing via repetitive actions.  Second, we saw the craving brain as the foundation for forming new habits.  Craving is what drives and feeds a habit.  Third, we saw the golden rule of habit change and why transformations occur.  You need to believe in the possibility of the change happening in the first place.  Fourth, we saw that some habits matter more than others when it comes to redefining lives and even businesses.  These habits that wield the power of influence are called Keystone Habits.  Fifth, we saw that we develop the habit of success when willpower, a keystone habit, becomes automatic.  Sixth, we saw that the crèche of change is crises.  It is possible to form habits out of a crisis, and it can become leverage in organizational leadership.  Seventh, we saw that companies are also happy to predict and manipulate habits using big data.  Eighth, we saw that societal movements or campaigns happen due to friendship habits that form along the way.  Finally, ninth, we looked at the neurology of the free will and how we are responsible for our habits.  There is no better primer on habit than Charles Duhigg’s “The Power of Habit.”

Change might not be fast, and it indeed isn’t easy to actualize.  However, with time and effort almost any habit can be reshaped or even developed.  However, we must be tenacious and steadfast in our efforts towards changing or developing a habit.  Times will come when you want to give up in the habit change or development process, but you must forge ahead unrelenting and giving your absolute best to the process.  Even when the pain becomes so unbearable in the death crawl challenge of change, you must continue to give your absolute best believing that the change you anticipate will become a reality.  The onus lies on you to keep going!  The responsibility rests on you to give your very best!  Keep driving through the hurt—Don’t quit!  Don’t stop!  Don’t bend!  Don’t resign!  Yes, you might be blindfolded and unable to see the fruit of the process, but you need to keep pushing with the belief that you can change or develop that habit!  Keep moving until you reach your own end zone of your change!  Keep going until you got nothing left!  We can determine our habits, mannerisms or customs once we know how.  Therefore, choose right at the junction of decisions.  Only “You” have the ability and the responsibility to reshape your life and your world. 

(NB. The article above is just a short synopsis of the book, The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.  This book will add value to the mind of those who want to transcend in developing habits that will transform their lives.  Hopefully, this short book review motivates the reader to want to read the entire book.  If yes, grab a copy, read it, and get the full bulk of its message). 

References

  1. DiFranco, T. (2012, November 30). The death crawl scene from facing the giants [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-sUKoKQlEC4&list=RD4do_nqkYF7M&index=4                      
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Ogbonnaya Agom-Eze is an entrepreneur and the Founder, CEO, Editor-In-Chief of Oaekpost, LLC, a U.S.-based online media company and the parent organization of www.oaekpost.com. He is a multi-niche writer with a wide range of interests in various genres. Agom-Eze is based in the Greater Seattle Area, Washington, and can be reached at ogb@oaekpost.com.

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