Habits have a profound influence over our lives. Before reading The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg, I had never paused and reflected on the habits in my life. How are habits formed? What causes them to take root? Most importantly, why are they so hard to stop?
Early on Duhigg introduces his readers to the habit loop, a process in the mind where one receives a cue, performs an action, and is rewarded. For a smoker, the cue could be stress. Their action is smoking. When the nicotine kicks in they feel rewarded. What’s remarkable is how the mind changes when a habit becomes ingrained. Instead of feeling rewarded at the completion of the action, once a habit is firmly in place a person will anticipate and feel the reward, before they’ve even finished the action. Think about it this way. A smoker is stressed out. They go outside to smoke a cigarette and before they light the cigarette their brain is already flushed from the feeling of being rewarded.
The longer we have a habit the harder it is to change. Duhigg’s prescription for change requires self-awareness. One must be aware of their habit and deconstruct it. Further, people should try to change the action they perform when they are cued. Again, for the smoker, what would happen if they took a short walk when they are stressed at work and sought a different reward? Smoking is a tough example, becomes it ties into addiction, but the example still holds up. Moreover, with habits that are addictions, Duhigg demonstrates the positive influence of belief. If a person believes they are capable of changing a habit or quitting an addiction, they are much more likely to do so.
Throughout the book there are plenty of examples of how people changed their habits. There is also a section on business and society, though the section on how habits play out in societies was the weakest. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business is accessible, clear, and well worth the read. It may even provide a framework for the reader so that they may modify their habits and affect positive change.