Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business
Life gets busy. Has The Power of Habit been gathering dust on your bookshelf? Instead, pick up the key ideas now.
We’re scratching the surface here. If you don’t already have the book, order the book or get the audiobook for free to learn the juicy details.
The Power of Habit recounts numerous helpful illustrations of the role of habits in individuals, organizations, and societies. After illustrating the role of habits, Duhigg identifies practical techniques to harness the power of habits for your own benefit. The power of habit is the ability to automate willpower by turning a painfully scarce resource into an infinite one.
About Charles Duhigg
Charles Duhigg is an investigative reporter for The New York Times. He is a winner of the National Academies of Sciences, National Journalism, and George Polk Awards, and was a 2009 Pulitzer Prize finalist. He is a frequent contributor to This American Life, NPR, PBS NewsHour, and Frontline. A graduate of Harvard Business School and Yale College, he lives in Brooklyn with his wife and two kids.
StoryShot #1 – Habits Aren’t Built on Memory
The book begins with the story of Eugene Pauly, a 71-year-old man who lost the medial temporal lobe of his brain to viral encephalitis. The rest of Eugene’s brain remained perfectly intact. So, he had no problem remembering anything that occurred before 1960 but suffered from total short-term memory loss. Eugene was unable to retain the knowledge of any new event for more than a minute. To make sure Eugene got some exercise, his wife had begun taking him on a walk around the block each day. One day, she became frantic when he disappeared. He showed up 15 minutes later after taking a walk by himself. He couldn’t draw a simple map of his block or even tell you where his house was. But Eugene had demonstrated what scientists had suspected. Habits are formed and operate entirely separately from the part of the brain responsible for memory.
StoryShot #2 – The Three Steps of Developing a Habit
The habit process consists of a three-step loop:
1. Cue – A trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which routine to use.
2. Routine – Physical, mental, or emotional behavior that follows the cue.
3. Reward – A positive stimulus that tells your brain that the routine works well and is worth remembering.
Simply understanding how habits work makes them much easier to control. By learning to observe the cues and rewards, we can change the routines.
StoryShot #3 – Using Habits for Marketing
In early 20th century America, hardly anyone brushed their teeth. During World War I, so many recruits had rotting teeth that government officials declared poor dental hygiene a national security risk. That all changed when a marketing genius, Claude Hopkins, was convinced by an old friend to apply his skills to toothpaste.
Claude was the man responsible for taking unknown products like Goodyear and Quaker Oats and turning them into household names. His signature tactic was to tap into the habit loop by anchoring the product to a specific trigger, regardless of how preposterous the connection. For example, Quaker Oats owes its success to Claude convincing America that it provided 24-hour energy if you ate it daily.
P&G learned that a habit is only formed when the brain begins to anticipate and crave the reward when the cue is introduced. P&G’s Febreze couldn’t sell a product that provides scentlessness because there is no cue available for the brain to anticipate. Febreze sales went through the roof once P&G began marketing the product as an air freshener. Febreze became a product used as the final step of a cleaning routine. Once people tried the product, they craved the clean smell from that finishing spritz of Febreze.
StoryShot #4 – Utilize Habits by Keeping Things Simple
Tony Dungy changed American football with a counterintuitive coaching approach. Instead of trying to outmatch his opponents with thicker playbooks and complex schemes, Tony drilled his team on only a few key plays. He did everything he could to get his team to stop thinking and react based on habit.
Tony knew that habits can’t usually be overcome. Instead, a habit can only be changed if a new routine is successfully inserted into the process. The new habit must have the same cue and the same reward. He trained his team to automatically link the cues they already knew to different on-field routines. These alternative routines involved less complexity, fewer choices, and more subconscious reactions. Tony managed to turn two abysmal teams into championship contenders.
StoryShot #5 – Develop Keystone Habits
In October 1987, Paul O’Neill became the new CEO of Fortune 500 manufacturer Alcoa. Paul understood you can’t order people to change. So, he decided to start by focusing on one thing. By disrupting one habit, he allowed it to spread throughout the company. This is what Duhigg calls a keystone habit. Paul’s keystone habit loop was that an injury (cue) had to be met by the unit president with an injury report and action plan within 24 hours (routine). Compliance with this habit would be met with promotions (reward). For a unit president to meet the 24-hour deadline, he needed to hear about the injury from his VP as soon as it happened. The VP had to be in constant communication with the floor managers. The floor managers had to rely on the workers for safety suggestions. As these patterns shifted to meet the safety requirements, other aspects of the company also began to change. Better safety quickly translated into increased quality and efficiency. Alcoa’s income had risen 500%, and its market capitalization had increased by $27 billion.
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