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The Power Of Habit

There are several tips to follow for increasing productivity, success and so on. Researchers continue to explore ways to affect our behavior. A great laymen’s handbook for modifying habits is The Power Of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life And Business by Charles Duhigg.


Duhigg, in his almost 300-page guide, delves into the science and practical application of habit modification. From the perspective of affecting changes in habits of individuals, successful organizations, and societies, Duhigg explores and examines what it takes to successfully change behavior.


The message boils down to applying the “habit loop” to affect changes in ones behavior, organization and culture. Recall Pavlov and his experiment with dogs.[1] This is the popular study that uncovered classical conditioning: a stimulus, a bell ringing, triggers a conditioned response, salivation, in anticipation of a reward, food. The habit loop is very similar.


The loop starts with a cue, which can be alarm or a feeling state that occurs. After the cue, then the routine kicks in. This is a series of actions that have become patterned after the cue. The goal of the behavioral routine is the desired result or reward. This whole chain of behavior is ultimately in pursuit of a reward.


To dissect and troubleshoot or hack a habit loop, the key is to discover the end reward. Most of the time it’s a particular desired sense of relief or satisfaction fulfilled. The next step is to discover the cue that triggers the routine. Once the end-point and start-point are clear, it is easier to identify and change the middle sequence, the routine.


To change your habit loop...
1) identify the reward sought, 2) watch the cue that triggers the habit, 3) analyze the undesirable behavioral pattern or habit, 4) make a plan for a new routine to implement instead, and 5) do it and track the progress!


A great example of the habit loop in action that Duhigg illustrates is Alcoholics Anonymous. This organization has successfully helped thousands of individuals break their drinking addiction. In regards to drinking, a common habit loop looks like: someone stuck at dull job feeling bored waiting to clock out, then to unwind from the day, the solution is to go to a bar and grab a drink before heading home, and, viola, the reward is relief from the grind. Clearly, this type of habit has negative implications: extra pounds and an absentee experience of life. But, AA turned that around.




In the AA example, the initial sense of feeling stressed kicks off the drinking habit to feel free of the day’s burdens. So, instead of using alcohol as a means to get to that relief, AA encourages individuals to use communication and relationships to achieve the reward. New members get a sponsor to call at any time to talk through their cravings to drink. Then, the sponsor helps them get relief without picking up a drink. And, it works!


This simple, yet powerful understanding has been used to help individuals hack many negative habits, like smoking, overeating, procrastination, and underachievement. It’s also been applied to organizations, like Starbucks, which empowers uneducated, average individuals to be effective leaders. It turned a failing company like Alcoa, an aluminum production company, into a billion dollar community of workers committed to safety as a result of Paul O’Neil targeting the organization’s ‘keystone habit,’ which are habits that over time can change everything. And, using keystone habits proved to create a multi-gold winning Olympian out of Michael Phelps.


The chain reaction of improved habits can make or break an organization. Anyone with experience in a stressful company environment knows that it can be a battle to move forward when the water cooler politics consumes most of their energy. The habit loop was even applied to making the song, “Hey, Yeah” by Outkast a phenomenon on radio when initially it bombed miserably.


The key to making changes is to have a plan. Once you are clear about the reward desired, the triggering cue and the behavior routine, it’s possible to make a change. Granted some habits are more challenging to alter than others, but by understanding the habit loop it is possible to shift and create a more ideal life.


Looking at areas of your life that need improvement, how could you hack your habit loop?


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— Shen Life (@shenlifeteam) June 6, 2016



The Power Of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life And Business by Charles Duhigg.

Erica Rogers