The Power of Habits

by Charles Duhigg

This is a well researched and creatively written book. Charles is a journalist who knows how to "craft" a story for high impact. The topic is powerful.


Chapter 1: The Habit Loop - How Habits Work

Trigger - Routine - Reward.

Once a habit is established, the higher functions and memory are not involved at all. It occurs deep in the brain, close to the brain stem, in the basal ganglia.

  • The trigger can be something tiny. e.g. You have a moment of boredom.
  • The routine is the act itself, e.g. you smoke a cigarette.
  • The reward is the payoff, e.g. you're not bored, and your brain gets a little buzz.

Once that's repeated, a habit becomes ingrained, and you don't consciously think about doing the thing. You just do it.

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

When the reward occurs, the brain has a little burst of activity (possibly dopamine release).

Once the habit is established, the brain will give this dopamine release in anticipation of the reward itself. At that point the habit is a craving. If the reward doesn't arrive, you'll be angry and upset.

Get people to experience the trigger and the reward, the habit will follow. It's easy.

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

The golden rule is that you can't eradicate the loop (Trigger-Action-Reward). But you can modify it. E.g. swap in a different action, but try to keep the reward the same.

The reward isn't the obvious reward: e.g. crave cigarette, only nicotine will provide the reward. The reward might just be overcoming the boredom of the moment. Finding a tiny pocket of excitement during a dull moment could be enough. An example with fingernail chewing where the person was craving some physical stimulation, so perform acts like rapping her knuckles against a table.

E.g. you like drinking at the pub because of the connection to other people. Then you need to replace the reward with the same reward: have a group of people you're connected to. That's part of what the buddy part of the AA program achieves. Swap in the same reward from a different source.

For a change of habit to really stick (during the hard times) we need something else: we need "belief". In AA it's expressed as giving yourself up to the Lord. What matters it that you have a deep and unshakable belief that change can occur. i.e. You are deeply hopeful, not hopeless.


Chapter 4: Keystone Habits, or the Ballad of Paul O'Neill - Which Habits Matter Most

Changing one habit can lead to others changed.

Chapter 5: Starbucks and the Habit of Success - When willpower becomes automatic

Chapter 6: The Power of a Crisis - How Leaders Create Habits Through Accident and Design

Chapter 7: How Target knows what you want before you do - When Companies Predict (and Manipulate) Habits


Chapter 8: Saddleback Church and the Montgomery Bus Boycott - How Movements Happen

Chapter 9: The Neurology of Free Will - Are we responsible for our habits?

Appendix: A Reader's Guide to Using These Ideas


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