Book Notes: The Power of Habit

I set a goal to read 24 books this year. This book was the 5th book I read in 2019. Here are my notes from The Power of Habit:


The book is written by Charles Duhigg, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter for the New York Times. He is a graduate from Harvard Business School and from Yale University. This book spent more than sixty weeks on the NYT’s bestseller list.


Prologue

Prologue discusses a lady who smoked, was overweight, failing at work, and her husband came to her and asked for a divorce. She traveled to Cairo and was completely depressed. She tried to light a pen in the dark thinking it was a cigarette. At her all time low she decided to change her habits. Now she runs marathons, had a great job, is engaged, etc. 

Another example was a major in the military that studied habits and did a habit modification program with his team. He even did habit plans with his wife. 


Part 1: The Habits of Individuals 

The Habit Loop – How Habits Work 

A man named Eugene, 71 years old, had a virus eat a couple centimeters of his brain. After a 10 day coma and rehab he was almost back to normal. One main difference is that he couldn’t remember new things for longer than 1 to 2 minutes. 

Scientists continued to study Eugene. He couldn’t tell you where his kitchen was in the home yet he could get up, go directly to the kitchen, grab some nuts to eat, and come back and sit down. He couldn’t tell you where the bathroom was but he could get up, go straight to the bathroom, and come back and sit down. 

He started going on walks around the neighborhood by himself and would come back home, even though he couldn’t tell you what his house looked like or where it was. 

Somehow Eugene was able to store information without having that portion of his brain. 

In the mid 1990’s, researchers at MIT were experimenting with rats. They put electric wires in rats brains to track electric response to certain cues. They discovered that the basal ganglia, a golf ball sized lump of tissue in the center of the brain, was where habits formed. 

After researching with rats, they discovered that your brain doesn’t work near as hard when it turns things into memory.

The habit pattern is

cue -> routine -> reward

After the cue, our brain works less to do the routine when it’s a habit. It’s why when we first learn to drive our minds are taking in everything and after a while we hardly think about the driving process while driving. It’s because it’s a habit now. 

When a habit emerges, the brain stops fully participating in decision making. 

Your brain doesn’t know the difference between a good habit or a bad one. 

In order to break a habit you have to deliberately fight it- you need to find a new routine. 

People with basal ganglia injuries really struggle. They can’t read emotions because they don’t know which part of the face to read. They are essentially experiencing everything for the first time. 

We do so many things out of habit each day. Do you stop to think about tying your left shoe or your right shoe first? Of course not. Habits can be a huge blessing or a curse. 

They continued to study Eugene. They wanted to see if he could form habits despite the brain issues. He was able to create habits. Habits were thrown off if the cue wasn’t the same or something was off in the routine. 

Habits, as much as memory and reason, are at the root of how we behave. Once they are lodged within our brains they influence how we act. 

Cues can range from seeing a candy bar television commercial to a certain place. 

Routines can be incredibly complex or fantastically simple. 

Rewards can range from food or drugs to emotional payoffs such as pride or self congratulations. 

Habits often occurs without our permission. 

They are so strong that they cause our brains to cling to them at the exclusion of all else, including common sense. 

An experiment was done by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. They trained mice to hit certain levers and get food. However, after it became a habit, they started to poison the food or shock the floor. The mice would not eat the pellets or walk the floor but once the lever, the cue was reintroduced, they would push it despite the vomiting or shock that they would deal with. 

Humans habits are also dangerous. Think of fast food. It starts as a once a month thing, to a once a week thing, to a twice a week thing, and soon becomes a habit. 

McDonald’s food is engineered to be a reward the moment it hits your tongue. The cue is that McDonald’s all look the same and the people say the same things. These cues ignite the routine. 

The brain has this amazing ability to find happiness even when the memories of it are gone. 

Eugene died in 2008. His brain and life made a huge impact on science and the study of habits. 


The Craving Brain 

How to create new habits.

The book talks about Claude Hopkins and his incredible accomplishments in advertising in the early 1900s. He wrote a book titled, My Life in Advertising. He was best known for the rules he coined explaining how to create new habits among consumers. 

Hopkins created a craving. That craving is what makes cues and rewards work. That craving is what powers the habit loop. 

Hopkins would look for simple triggers to convince consumers to use his products every day. He marketed things this way:Eat Quaker Oats in the morning to get 24 hours of energy. If you feel tired drink tonic water. If you feel film on your teeth, use Pepsodent toothpaste. They relied upon a cue – film on your teeth – that was universal and impossible to ignore. 

The reward for using Pepsodent was becoming more beautiful. Who doesn’t want that? Brush with Pepsodent, get a more beautiful smile. 

It took just 3 weeks of advertising Pepsodent this way for the demand for the product to explode. In three years it went international. Within a decade it was a top selling good in the world and remained America’s best selling toothpaste for 30 years. Before Pepsodent only 7% of Americans had toothpaste. A decade later, the number jumped up to 65%! Wow. 

His two psychology rules for marketing a product: 

  1. First, find a simple and obvious cue. 
  2. Second, clearly define the rewards. 

The author says there is a third rule also. 

Proctor and Gamble tried Hopkins approach when they first started to sell Febreze. They marketed that if you smell a bad smell use Febreze to cover the smell and hide your embarrassment. The problem was that people didn’t understand how bad they smelt. The cat lady doesn’t smell her 9 cats. This cue didn’t work. 

Researchers studied monkeys brains when it came to habits. They would sit them in front of a computer and when a shape appeared the monkey would push a button and juice would come down a tube to them. At first their mental scans showed that the brain activity spiked when the juice got to them, the reward. However, over time, the brain started to spike not when the reward came but when the shape on the screen showed up. The monkey was feeling rewarded knowing that the juice would come. After a while they stopped bringing juice or diluting the juice. This created anger and frustration for the monkey. It created a craving. It would sit by the screen for hours waiting for the shapes to satisfy its craving for juice. This is the same as people at slot machines who can’t break away from them. The habits craving is so powerful. 

When we associate cues with certain rewards, a subconscious craving emerges in our brains that starts the habit loop spinning. 

Cinnabon places their stores away from the food court in malls so the smell of their roles are uninterrupted by other smells. It is the cue, by the time people get to the store the craving is so strong that they grab their wallet without thinking about it. If they don’t buy one, they will be disappointed. 

New habits are created by putting together a cue, a routine, a reward, and then cultivating a craving that drives the loop. 

People see a box of cigarettes and it starts the craving. 

People get a ding on their phone and it starts the craving to see what it is. 

Remove the cue, remove the craving. 

Strong habits are incredibly powerful. “Wanting evolves into obsessive craving. Even in the face of strong disincentives, including loss of reputation, job, home, and family.” Our brains go into autopilot from our strong habits. 

However, cravings don’t have complete authority over us. We must recognize which craving is driving the behavior.  

They studied people that regularly work out (at least 3 times per week).  92% of them said they worked out because it made them feel good. They liked the endorphins. 60% said they did it because it gave them a feeling of accomplishment. For working out to be a habit you have to crave the endorphins or feeling of accomplishment before you even workout. 

Back to the Febreze history. They started looking at hours of people cleaning their homes. They realized that after people cleaned they would smile and then relax. They realized then that that could be the cue they were looking for. They should market Febreze as something you do after you finish cleaning vs when you start cleaning. 

By changing the marketing from use Febreze if your house is stinky to use Febreze as the finishing touch when you clean made all the difference. People didn’t want to admit their homes stunk. They did want to have their room smell nice after they cleaned. 

The Febreze relaunch happened in the summer of 98. Within two months, sales doubled. Within a year, customers had spent more than $230 million on the product. Now the brand sales over $1B per year. Wow! 

The craving needs to be there to be a habit. 

One of the reasons Pepsodent did so well is because it had citric acid and mint oils that gave a cool tingling sensation when people brushed with it. The sensation became part of the craving. As soon as other toothpaste companies realized people craved the sensation they imitated it. After that, Pepsodent lost its lead. 

Cravings are stronger when sensation is felt that helps show that its working. 

Figure out how to create a craving in order to turn something into a habit. 


The Golden Rule of Habit Change

You can never truly extinguish bad habits. Rather, to change a habit, you must keep the old cue, and deliver the old reward, but insert a new routine. 

Almost any behavior can be transformed if the cue and reward stay the same. 

The book goes on to talk about the Buccaneers and how horrible they were. They got a new coach that focused on changing habits and they went on to win a super bowl and make the playoffs 10 years in a row. 

The book then talks about Bill Wilson. He was an alcoholic that went on to found Alcoholics Anonymous. He wrote the twelves steps to breaking a habit. He did 12 steps because there were 12 apostles. 

AA succeeds because it helps alcoholics use the same cues, get the same reward, but it shifts the routine. 

To change an old habit, you must address an old craving. Feed cravings by inserting a new routine. 

Lots of people drink not because they like the alcohol but because of the feelings it gives them: relaxation, calming of anxiety, escape, companionship. In AA you get a sponsor that can help you with these things instead of drinking. 

People resort to certain bad habits because that’s how they’ve learned to deal with life. Teach them a new way to deal with life to change their routine. 

Asking people to describe what triggers their habitual behaviors is called awareness training, it forces you to recognize the cues. This is the first step in habit reversal training. 

The doctor told a girl who had a habit of biting her finger nails to make a check mark on an index card for every time she got the urge to bite her nails. By their next visit she had 28 check marks. He then asked her to put her hands in her pockets or hold something every time she got the urge. On the index card, he asked her to put a hashmark next to the check for every time she successfully countered the habit. After she did this she broke the habit in a month. 

Once you recognize the cues and rewards, you’re halfway to changing it. The brain can be reprogrammed. You have to be deliberate about it. 

Do you snack because you’re hungry or because you’re bored. Instead of snacking, talk to a friend or go for a walk. 

The Buccaneers went on to do really well; however, they started losing the playoff games. They did great in following the new routines in practice but during the game the pressure and stress got to them and they went on to doing their old habits. 

A guy struggled with alcohol and drugs and eventually got sober. His mom got cancer and he went back to alcohol again. 

Habit replacement worked pretty well until the stresses of life got too high and then they’d fall off the wagon. 

Replacement habits only become durable new behaviors when they are accompanied by something else. 

Most alcoholics that can stay sober for longer periods of time have a belief in God or a higher power. Science hates this answer because God is not a testable hypotheses. They reasoned that it wasn’t God that mattered, it was belief itself that made the difference. 

Belief was the ingredient that made a reworked habit loop into a permanent behavior. You need to believe that you can cope with the stress. 

When people join groups where change seems possible, the potential for that change to occur becomes more real. 

We know that for habits to permanently change, people must believe that change is feasible. Belief is easier when it occurs within a community. 

Habits can not be eradicated. They can only be replaced. 


Part 2: The Habits of Successful Organizations 

Keystone Habit 

Keystone habits start a process that, over time, transforms everything. 

The habits that matter the most are the ones that, when they start to shift, dialogue and remake other patterns. 

Individuals have habits; groups have routines. 

Routines are the organizational analogue of habits. 

The best agencies understand the importance of routines. The worst agencies don’t ever think about them and wonder why no one follows their orders. 

The new CEO of the largest aluminum company didn’t start off by focusing on increasing productivity or efficiencies. He focused on improving safety. He felt that this was a thing the unions and managers could get behind. By improving safety, they improved productivity, morale, and quality. 

Studies have examined the impacts of exercise on daily routines. When people start habitually exercising, even as infrequently as once per week, they start changing other, unrelated patterns in the lives, often unknowingly. (I’ve seen this go be true. Working out every day for a year showed me that I’m capable of so much more and have the discipline to do it. This confidence in my discipline has fueled me through different projects in my life.)

People that exercise start eating better and becoming more productive at work. They smile more and have more patience. They use credit cards less and say they feel less stressed. For many people, exercise is a keystone habit that triggers widespread change. 

Families that eat dinner together raise children with better homework skills, higher grades, greater emotional control, and more confidence. 

Focus on finding and cultivation keystone habits. 

At the core of why keystone habits are so effective is “small wins.”

Small wins are part of how keystone habits create widespread changes. Small wins have enormous power. Once a small win is accomplished, forces are set in motion that favor another small win.

Small wins fuel transformative changes by leveraging tiny advantages into patterns that convince people that bigger achievements are within reach. 

Michael Phelps would visualize the race before he went to bed and when he woke up. His coach called this “playing the tape.” It wasn’t a real tape but just him visualizing the perfect race. It started habits for Phelps and everything else fell into its place. 

Experts used to recommend that people had to radically change their lives in order to lose weight. They recommended that people change their diet, join a gym, take the stairs, and more. It didn’t work. After the initial excitement wore off people would go back to living how they did before.

Another expert asked people to just do one thing: record what you eat for one day a week. People that did this started to become aware of their snacking times and habits. They started to prepare and eat healthier options. People that recorded their eating at least one day per week lost twice as much weight as those that did not. 

Sometimes focusing on one thing can have a larger impact than trying to focus on everything. 

Cultures grow out of keystone habits in every organization whether leaders know it or not. 


Starbucks and the Habit of Success 

When Willpower Becomes Automatic 

Starbucks focuses on an all-important habit: willpower. Dozens of studies show that willpower is the single most important keystone habit for individual success. 

Self discipline adolescents outperformed their more impulse peers on every academic variable. Self-discipline has a bigger effect on academic performance than intellectual talent. 

Make willpower a habit. 

Starbucks spent millions of dollars developing curriculums to train employees on self-discipline. They learned that willpower can be taught. 

An experiment was done in the 1960’s. 4 year olds were brought in to a room with a marshmallow placed in front of them. They were told that if they waited a couple of minutes and didn’t eat the marshmallow that the adult would return with another one for them to eat. If they waited they got two marshmallows not just one.

Some kids ate the marshmallow and didn’t wait. Some waited and got two marshmallows.

Years later they checked in on those kids and discovered that those who had self control as a 4 year old were more likely to have better grades, higher test scores, and better relationships. 

Another experiment was done to test how long willpower can last. They instructed 50% of a group of kids to eat a cookie while avoiding to eat a radish and the other 50% to eat a radish but avoid the cookies. After they completed that, they asked the kids to solve an impossible puzzle and ring the bell if they decided to give up. The kids that ate cookies attempted to do the puzzle for an average of 19 minutes. The radish kids gave up after just 8 minutes. 

This, and hundreds of experiments done since then, show that willpower is like a muscle. It gets tired from being used. 

As people strengthened their willpower muscles in one part of their lives – in the gym, or money management for example- that strength spilled over into what they ate or how hard they worked. Once willpower became stronger, it touched everything. 

Getting kids into sports or music lessons is important because it builds their self-regulatory strength. 

A Scottish researcher did an experiment on elderly individuals who had just had a knee surgery. They had them take a pamphlet and in the pamphlet there were blank pages. The pages were a spot for the patient to write down how they would rehab their knees. Those that actually took the time to write out their plans were up and moving much faster than those that didn’t. 

Starbucks has their employees write down their individual plan for when they are facing an angry customer. 

Willpower becomes a habit by choosing a certain behavior ahead of time, and then following that routine when an inflection point arrives. 

Howard Schultz was an animal at growing Starbucks. He bought the company in 1987 and it only had six stores then. Now there are over 17,000! In 2007 they were opening 7 stores every day and hiring 1,500 people each week. 

Howard says that his mom gave him belief that he could do big things. He feels like he was able to do big things because of that. 

An experiment was done where they politely asked people not to eat cookies for 5 min. They told them that they were part of a self control experiment and thanked them for being understanding. Then they had another group come in. They told them not to eat the cookies and gave no kind remark or reason why.

After the 5 minutes, they had people sit in front of a computer screen and press the space bar every time they saw a number 6 or 4 pop up on the screen. The group that they had been polite to did much better than the group that they hadn’t been. This showed that giving people kindness and reason increased their willpower. 

Giving people the feeling of self control increases their willpower. 


The Power of a Crisis

How Leaders Create Habits Through Accidents and Design 

The book gives an example of a hospital in Rhode Island where the culture was very bad between nurses and doctors. It was so toxic that the nurses had gone on strike. When they tried to follow proper protocol the surgeons would become angry, belittle the nurse, and sometimes leave the room. The nurses learned not to speak up and avoid confrontation. They even used color codes on the charts to indicate if a doctor was nice (blue), mean (red), or don’t cross this person ever (black). 

An elderly patient game in to the hospital and was dying due to having fallen down and blood pooling up on the left side of his brain. The consent paperwork came in but didn’t specify which side of the skull the blood was on. The nurse tried to speak up to get clarity but the doctor’s name was written in black. He knew it would be a battle he would lose. The doctor claimed it was on the right side and started to drill into the right side of the skull. They realized then that it was on the left. The surgery took twice as long and the patient died. The family said he died because the hospital messed up. The surgeon was removed for working at that hospital. 

Habits will form whether you are intentional about them or not.

Cultures in organizations will form whether you’re intentional about them or not. Usually if left alone, cultures and habits will become negative ones. You must be intentional. 

For an organization to work, leaders must cultivate habits that both create a real balanced peace and make it absolutely clear who’s in charge. 

In a London Subway station the culture and habits were horrible. People were told to stay in their lane and not interfere with others designated areas.

One ticketing person was alerted of a fire and instead of calling anyone, because he had been told to not call the fire department unless it was critical or even a department head without authority, he went down the escalators and put the fire out himself. He didn’t check to see what started it or where it came from because it wasn’t part of his department. 30 min later the station was on fire. 31 people died and dozens were injured. 

There were a lot of bad habits and truces made. The way this story was written is detailed and interesting. 

Sometimes one priority – or one department or one person or one goal – needs to overshadow everything else. Example: traveler safety. 

During turmoil, organizational habits become malleable enough to both assign responsibility and create a more equitable balance of power. 

When crises happen, everyone becomes more open to change. 

The hospital in Rhode Island made so many mistakes it became a big story in the news. Once all of it turned in to a crisis the doctors and other members were open to change. Before the crisis they weren’t. 

Good leaders seize crises to remake organizational habits. 

Crises are such valuable opportunities that a wise leader often prolongs a sense of emergency on purpose. 

A company with dysfunctional habits can’t turn around just because a leader orders it. Rather, wise executives seek out moments of crisis-or create the perception of crisis- and cultivate the sense that something must change until everyone is finally ready to overhaul the patterns they live with each day. 

The Rhode Island hospital took that crisis and changed habits and culture from it. They now win awards for medical care. 


How Target Knows What You Want Before You Do

When Companies Predict (and Manipulate) Habits

Habits influence almost every shopping decision. 

Old school business was to do tactics to the masses such as putting the fruits and veggies in the front of the store or putting the milk in the back. New school business is to dive through the customer data to understand each customers unique habits and life situation. Once you know their habits and situation, you can sell better to them. 

Consumers sometimes act like creatures of habit, automatically repeating part behaviors with little regard to current goals. 

Target, and most large retailers, collect tons and tons of data on every customer. They collect your name, address, ethnicity, professions, marital status, if you have kids or pets, physical appearance, etc. Some data is gathered through in person visits to their store, online, and by purchasing data from other data companies. 

Once they know what you buy and what you don’t buy from them, they tailor advertisements to you. 

This chapter is very interesting. 

People rarely purchase other brands; however 10 to 15% of people questioned recently had switched brands. Why? They recently experienced a life changing event: bought a home, got marred, got divorced, someone new in the household. On top of that, pregnancy had caused the most changes to someone purchasing habits with brands. Pregnant women are considered gold mines for companies. 

New parents buy lots of stuff and stores like Target make significant profit from those purchases. 

Disney estimates that the market for pregnant women in North America is 36 billion dollars! 

Target wanted to beat all of the other companies at marketing to pregnant mothers. They created algorithms that calculated, based on products purchased together, if someone was pregnant and when they were due. It was incredibly accurate. 

There are companies that try to figure out people’s listening habits and predict which songs will be popular. 

Radio stations measure songs “stickiness.” Which songs keep people listening to the radio station? They found that songs that sounded familiar were more sticky. 

Our brains crave familiarity in music because it’s how we manage to hear without becoming distracted by all the sounds. This is why songs that sound familiar, even if it’s the first time you’ve heard it, are sticky. 

Listeners are happy to sit through a song they say they don’t like, as long as it seems like something they’ve heard before. 

In order to get people to try new things, make the unfamiliar seem familiar. 

During World War II, we were running low on protein to eat as a nation. The president asked people to see how we could solve this problem. They decided to try to convince Americans to eat more organ meats: livers, kidneys, tongues, brains, etc. of the animals.

In order to do this, they had to give out recipes to make these foods look and taste like steak and familiar meats. It eventually took off of the number of Americans eating offal meats was up 50 percent after the war was over. 

The hit song by OutKast “Hey Ya” was a huge failure at first and was not sticky because it was not familiar. In order to make it more sticky and change listening habits, radio stations began to sandwich the song’s playing time between two hit and sticky songs. Eventually listening habits changed and people went on to crave Hey Ya. It was super popular. 

Target realized that they couldn’t send out ads to women that they thought to be pregnant without appearing creepy so they added in random ads for things like lawnmowers next to all of the baby stuff when sending mailers to these women. It appears more random even though it was very much a targeted ad. 

To market a new habit you must figure out how  to make the novel seem familiar. 


Part 3: The Habits of Societies 

How Movement Happens 

Social habits are why some initiatives become world-changing movements, while others fail to ignite. 

The book talks about how Rosa Paris started the civil rights movement in 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama. 

A movement starts because of the social habits of friendship and the strong ties between close acquaintances. 

Movements leaders give participants new habits that create a fresh sense of identity. 

Many black people had been arrested before Rosa Parks for not giving up their seats on the bus either. However, her situation took off because the political climate was changing. Brown vs the Board of Education happened 6 months prior to her arrest. Another reason it took off is because Rosa Parks was deeply respected and embedded within her community.

It triggered social habits when she was arrested – the habits of friendship – that ignited the protests. Rosa Parks was part of many different groups in her community. She wasn’t just part of groups of people like her, she was part of many different kinds of groups. 

There’s a natural instinct embedded in friendship, a sympathy that makes us willing to fight for someone we like that has been treated unjustly. 

People are more prone to join a cause or fight an injustice if they are friends with the person that was treated unjustly. If it’s a stranger, the average person doesn’t care enough to join the cause. However, if there is a “weak tie” and peer pressure we will. Weak ties are where you are someone connected to a person or a group of people and you share the same goal worth fighting for. 

The habits of peer pressure often spread through weak ties. They gain their authority through communal expectations. If you ignore the social obligation of your community, you risk losing your social standing. 

When strong ties of friendship and weak ties of peer pressure merge, they create incredible momentum. 

When someone commits to something but there is not peer pressure or they won’t lose social standing, it becomes easier to back out of that thing. However, if their close friends and casual acquaintances are doing that thing and there’s a chance that social standing could be lost, people have a hard time backing out. They found this true with those who had signed up to travel to Mississippi to help people register to vote. 

After Rosa Parks was arrested, the news spread quickly throughout the city. The black community decided to boycott the buses on Monday. They started holding meetings at churches, which is when Dr. MLK became involved. Soon the word was spreading that you should boycott with an untold message that said that if you don’t join the boycott then you will lose social standing in our community. These weak ties caused thousands to protest Rosa Parks arrest. 

The book discusses Rick Warren and how he established a church in Saddleback, CA. He moved there after he and his wife had their first child. He read that it was the fastest growing city in the fastest growing state at the time and that there was no large church there.

His first church meeting included 7 people at his living room. Now it’s one of the largest churches with over 20,000 parishioners visiting its 129 acre campus and eight satélite campuses. He wrote a book, The Purpose-Driven Life, which has sold more than 30 million copies. 

He said that the only way to get people to take responsibility for their spiritual maturity is by teaching them habits of faith. They’ll then follow Christ not because you’ve led them there, but because it’s who they are. 

He spent the first 12 weeks in the town going door to door and asking people why they didn’t go to church. Answers were practical: it’s boring, music was bad, sermons weren’t applicable, etc.

He addressed these types of complaints. People could wear shorts and Hawaiian shirts. Electric guitars were brought in. He focused on practical sermons like “How to Handle Discouragement.”

It worked. Grew to 200 in the less than a year. 

The church got so big he started having people teach smaller church classes at their homes. Soon weak ties turned into strong ties because of these small groups. People enjoyed being a part of a community. 

For an idea to grow beyond a community, it must become self-propelling.  The surest way to achieve that is to give people new habits that help them figure out where to go on their own.  

Movements emerge by relying on social habits that begin as habits of friendship, grow through habits of communities, and are sustained by new habits that change participants sense of self. 


Chapter 9: The Neurology of Free Will

Are We Responsible for Our Habits?

This chapter starts by sharing a story of a lonely mother. Her husband works all day, her kids are in school. Her dad and brother are some what famous musicians and she thinks of herself as “just a mom.”

She decides that she needs to do something more entertaining with her life so she starts gambling. She only goes once per week and only uses the money in her purse.

Eventually, she starts finding more reasons to go to the casino and looses so much money they have to file bankruptcy. She thought she was in control but it became such a habit that she ruined hers and her husbands lives. Her attorney tried to claim that it wasn’t her choices, it was her habits, that caused her to do these dumb things. 

Another story in the book is of a man that had a dream that someone was strangling his wife so he strangled them only to find out that he had actually murdered his wife in their sleep. 

Science shows that it’s possible for your brain to take actions without awaking the front part of the brain that thinks. The brain acts out of habit even when the person is still asleep. 

The man was acquitted of the murder charges and the jury deemed that he could not be held responsible because he did not have the awareness or make the decision to strangle his wife. The judge even tried to console the man at the end of the trial. 

What is the difference? One man’s habits during his sleep killed his wife and he was set free while another woman’s habits forced her family into bankruptcy. Is she not to blame as well? 

Later in the gambling woman’s story we learn that her parents died. When they died she became very depressed but also got over a million dollars as an inheritance. She tried to avoid gambling at first and even moved to a state where it wasn’t legal. 

However, one day when she traveled back to her old hometown she decided to go to the casino. This turned into a huge mess. The habit came roaring back. The casinos knew how addicted she was and invited her to fly to their hotels and gave her the room, flights, and concert tickets for free.

This continued her habit and she was soon losing a lot of money. One day she lost $250,000 in 12 hours! She tried to justify it but she couldn’t. She hadn’t even told her husband yet. She became more depressed. 

There was a study done where they took pathological gamblers and social gamblers and put them in MRI machines. Inside the MRI, they showed them videos of slot machines. There was no money involved. The slot machine would show that they lost, won, or almost won.

The pathological gamblers experienced much greater brain activity when they won than the social gamblers did. In addition, the pathological gamblers experienced the same sensation when they almost won while the social gamblers experienced the feeling as if they’d lost. This showed that the brains reacted different even though the same thing has occurred to both groups of people. 

Back to the gambling ladies story – she figured she had lost over $900k gambling. The casino called and invited her to come again she tried to resist but decided to go. She lost all of the money she had left, had lost $125k more of the casinos money, and had gambled her house away on a line of credit. The casino definitely took advantage of her habit. 

Habits – even when they are rooted in our minds – aren’t destiny. We can choose our habits, once we know how. Any habit can be changed, if you understand how they function. 

Hundreds of habits influence our days – guide how we get dressed, talk to our kids, and fall asleep at night, etc. Each of them has a different cue and offers a unique reward. 

To modify a habit you must decide to change it. 

You must consciously accept the hard work of identifying the cues and rewards that drive the habits routines, and find alternatives. 

Know you have control and be self-conscious enough to use it. 

Once you know a habit exists, you have the responsibility to change it. 

Habits 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, do it semi-mechanically, or with hardly any consciousness at all. 

If you believe you can change – if you make it a habit – the changes become real.  


Afterword 

The author shares some things learned about weight loss, smoking, procrastination, and teaching. 

Weight loss: people successfully loose weight when they eat breakfast every day and weigh themselves each day. 

The small win of dropping even a half a pound can provide the dose of momentum we need to stick with a diet. We need small victories to believe a long battle will be won. 

Relapses will happen but take steps to make sure they don’t become a habit. This makes it easier to get back on track. 

Plan for your willpower muscles to fatigue, fail, and recover. You’re more likely to snap back faster. 

One person quit smoking by paying closer attention to when he wanted a cigarette. It was when he wanted a sense of calm. He tried replacing smoking with running. That eventually broke down. He then tried going to the sauna. That worked for a bit but you can’t go to the sauna multiple times a day. He then started to replace it with meditation moments. He could do that anywhere. 

If someone is a procrastinator, plan on your willpower breaking down, plan to let yourself fail for a bit and then get right back to recovering. 

When you realize you have the power to change your habits, you realize you have the power to better your life. 


Appendix

The framework:

  • Identify the routine 
  • Experiment with rewards 
  • Isolate the cue 
  • Have a plan 

Identify your routines that are part of your bad habits. Determine what the reward is. Figure out what the cues are. Experiment with different rewards. 

Most cravings are hard in retrospect, but incredibly hard to see when we are under their sway. 

Look at all the rewards you might be getting from a habit and experiment different rewards to determine what the craving really is trying to satisfy. Do you get up and get a cookie every afternoon because your hungry, or because you need a change of scenery from your desk, or your blood sugar is low, or you want to socialize some? You don’t know for sure until you experiment. 

After experimenting with a different reward, write down the first three words that pop into your head. Set a timer for 15 minutes to see if you still have the original craving. This forces awareness and determines if you correctly replaced the reward. 

To isolate cues, identify categories of behaviors ahead of time to scrutinize in order to see the patterns. 

Almost all habitual cues fit into one of five categories:

  • Location 
  • Time
  • Emotional state
  • Other people 
  • Immediately proceeding action 

When you start getting an urge, write down those five things the moment it occurs. 

Once you know your routine, what the reward is you get from it, and what triggers it- you can begin to shift the behavior. You need a plan. In psychology these plans are known as “implementation intentions.”

Example: at 3:30 every day, I’ll walk to my friends desk and socialize for 10 minutes instead of getting a cookie. 

Changing some habits can be difficult, but this framework is a place to start. 

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