“The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg

There is no doubt that the brain processes many things subconsciously. Throughout our lives we all pick up cues and ticks that trigger processes that we might not be totally aware of. In some cases, these processes can become destructive; gambling, addiction, etc. In other cases, these processes are less severe; nail-biting, pen tapping, etc. To tackle the spectrum of our habits, be it destructive or mild, we must understand the cues that lead to that behavior and the reward that we have to continue doing that behavior.

  1. Almost any behavior can be transformed if the cue and the reward stay the same.
  2. Organizations habits seemed dangerous. We are basically ceding decision-making to a process that occurred without actually thinking. (“The Organized Mind” would argue that this is a good thing). At other agencies, where change was in the air, good organizational habits were creating success.
  3. Small wins are actually 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 themself. Small wins are a steady application of a small advantage.
  4. No one else had the opportunity to learn from it. Not sharing an opportunity to learn is a cardinal sin.
  5. To succeed, they need a keystone habit that creates a culture—such as a daily gathering of like-minded friends to help find the strength to overcome obstacles. Keystone habits transform us by creating cultures that make clear the values that, in the heat of a difficult decision or a moment of uncertainty, we might otherwise forget.
  6. Routines weren’t carefully thought out. Rather they appeared by accident and spread through widespread warnings, until toxic patterns emerged. This can happen within any organization where habits aren’t deliberately planned. Just as choosing the right keystone habits can create amazing change, the wrong ones can create disaster.
  7. Sometimes one priority—or one department or one person or one goal—needs to overshadow everything else, though it might be unpopular or threaten the balance of power that keeps trains running on time. Sometimes a truce can create dangers that outweigh any peace.
  8. Studies show that people have no problem ignoring stranger’s injuries but when a friend is insulted, our sense of outrage is enough to overcome the inertia that usually makes protests hard to organize. The social habits of friendship—the natural inclination to help someone we respect—kicked in.
  9. “Some thinkers” Aristotle wrote in Nicomachean Ethics, “hold that it is by nature that people become good, others that it is by habit, and others that it is by instruction.” For Aristotle, habits reigned supreme. The behaviors that occur unthinkingly are the evidence of our truest selves, he said.
  10. Habits, he noted, are what allow us to “do a thing with difficulty the first time, but soon do it more and more easily, and finally, with sufficient practice, to do it semi-mechanically, or with hardly any consciousness at all. Once we choose who we want to be, people grow to the way in which they have been exercised.”
  11. If you believe you can change—if you make it a habit—the change becomes real. This is the real power of habit: the insight that your habits are what you choose them to be.
  12. “These are the two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, ‘Morning boys. How’s the water?” The writer David Wallace Foster told a class of graduating college students. “And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other one and goes ‘What the hell is water?” The water is habits, the unthinking choices and invisible decisions that surround us every day—and which, just by looking at them, become visible again.
  13. Framework for Changing:
    1. Identify the routine.
    2. Experiment with rewards.
    3. Isolate the cue.
    4. Have a plan.

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business

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