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New York Times business writer Charles Duhigg explores the science behind why we do what we do, and how companies use our habit-forming tendencies to sell and market products to us. January 8, 2014 • In softcover nonfiction, William Knoedelseder looks at the family behind Budweiser, Charles Duhigg delves into the science of habit, Fred Kaplan explores an Army revolution, and Whole Foods' founder argues for businesses pursuing a higher purpose. December 24, 2012 • How is it that some people are able to change their bad habits and reinvent themselves, while others try and fall short? March 5, 2012 • Every habit-forming activity follows the same behavioral and neurological patterns, says New York Times business writer Charles Duhigg. February 27, 2012 • In his new book, Charles Duhigg explores cutting-edge research into the neuroscience of habit formation a€” and how companies and advertisers are using it to their advantage.
Note: Book excerpts are provided by the publisher and may contain language some find offensive. Prologue I i¬?rst became interested in the science of habits eight years ago, as a newspaper reporter in Baghdad.
The difficult thing about studying the science of habits is that most people, when they hear about this field of research, want to know the secret formula for quickly changing any habit.
Individuals and habits are all different, and so the specifics of diagnosing and changing the patterns in our lives differ from person to person and behavior to behavior.
The MIT researchers in Chapter One discovered a simple neurological loop at the core of every habit, a loop that consists of three parts: A cue, a routine and a reward. As an example, let’s say you have a bad habit, like I did when I started researching this book, of going to the cafeteria and buying a chocolate chip cookie every afternoon. But every afternoon you manage to ignore that note, get up, wander towards the cafeteria, buy a cookie and, while chatting with colleagues around the cash register, eat it.
To figure out which cravings are driving particular habits, it’s useful to experiment with different rewards. On the first day of your experiment, when you feel the urge to go to the cafeteria and buy a cookie, adjust your routine so it delivers a different reward. As you test four or five different rewards, you can use an old trick to look for patterns: After each activity, jot down on a piece of paper the first three things that come to mind when you get back to your desk. By experimenting with different rewards, you can isolate what you are actually craving, which is essential in redesigning the habit. Once you’ve figured out the routine and the reward, what remains is identifying the cue. About a decade ago, a psychologist at the University of Western Ontario tried to answer a question that had bewildered social scientists for years: Why do some eyewitnesses of crimes misremember what they see, while other recall events accurately? Dozens of studies have examined this phenomena, trying to determine why some people are better eyewitnesses than others.
But the importance of this experiment is that those same tapes had been watched by dozens of other researchers. Once the psychologist decided to focus on only three categories of behavior, however, and eliminate the extraneous information, the patterns leapt out. When you automatically turn your car left while driving to work, what triggers that behavior?
To identify a cue amid the noise, we can use the same system as the psychologist: Identify categories of behaviors ahead of time to scrutinize in order to see patterns. Three days in, it was pretty clear which cue was triggering my cookie habit – I felt an urge to get a snack at a certain time of day. In the prologue, we learned that a habit is a choice that we deliberately make at some point, and then stop thinking about, but continue doing, often every day.
Put another way, a habit is a formula our brain automatically follows: When I see CUE, I will do ROUTINE in order to get a REWARD. Get instant access to exclusive videos, study guides and resources for Smarter Better Faster and The Power of Habit. This will require an understanding of psychology, neuroscience, behavior change, coaching, and more. The easiest way to change a habit is to keep the exact same structure but change the Routine.
Product notion: Some researchers implanted an electrical stimulation device into the basal ganglia region of the brain to help reduce cravings for alcohol. Product notion: Smartphone app that deliberately exercises the willpower muscle and teaches you skills around willpower management. Product notion: Use a device like a Basis to measure Heart Rate Variability (excellent psyiological correlate to willpower) and suggest interventions to increase willpower or at least warn you that you are low. Let me know if you’ve got suggestions for reading on habit, psychology, willpower, coaching, and personal development!


If the school year is a like a road trip across the United States, this is the stage where you drove off and left the gas cap back in Zanesville, Ohio about an hour outside of Columbus.
There are a number of apps, too many I’d say, for task management, reminders, and calendars. As part of our annual series on the books we missed, New York Times investigative reporter Charles Duhigg discusses his book The Power Of Habit and about the science of habit formation.
Understanding and interrupting that loop is key to breaking a habit, says journalist Charles Duhigg.
His new book The Power of Habit explores the science behind why we do what we do a€” and how companies are working to use our habits to market products to us.
If scientists have discovered how these patterns work, then it stands to reason that they must have also found a recipe for rapid change, right?
Giving up cigarettes is different than curbing overeating, which is different from changing how you communicate with your spouse, which is different from how you prioritize tasks at work. Rather, I hoped to deliver something else: a framework for understanding how habits work and a guide to experimenting with how they might change. Each chapter in this book explains a different aspect of why habits exist and how they function.
Once you have diagnosed the habit loop of a particular behavior, you can look for ways to supplant old vices with new routines.
For instance, instead of walking to the cafeteria, go outside, walk around the block, and then go back to your desk without eating anything. They can be emotions, random thoughts, reflections on how you’re feeling, or just the first three words that pop into your head. Researchers theorized that some people simply have better memories, or that a crime that occurs in a familiar place is easier to recall. She wondered if researchers were making a mistake by focusing on what questioners and witnesses had said, rather than how they were saying it.
She saw that witnesses who misremembered facts usually were questioned by cops who used a gentle, friendly tone. Perhaps it was because, subconsciously, those friendship cues triggered a habit to please the questioner.
The reason why it is so hard to identify the cues that trigger our habits is because there is too much information bombarding us as our behaviors unfold. You can change to a better routine by planning for the cue, and choosing a behavior that delivers the reward you are craving. To underscore this crucial point, Latour borrows a distinction from his sociological ancestor Gabriel Tarde: the verb to have is much more important than the verb to be. There are a couple of apps as well for habit tracking that mimic Jerry Seinfeld’s advice to chain, basically just keeping a calendar and marking off days.
The framework described in this appendix is an attempt to distill, in a very basic way, the tactics that researchers have found for diagnosing and shaping habits within our own lives. In fact, let’s say this habit has caused you to gain exactly 8 pounds, and that your wife has made a few pointed comments. When the Febreze marketing team discovered that consumers desired a fresh scent at the end of a cleaning ritual, for example, they had found a craving that no one even knew existed. The next day, go to the cafeteria and buy a donut, or a candy bar, and eat it at your desk. The point is to test different hypotheses to determine which craving is driving your routine. Just as Mandy, the nail biter in Chapter 3, carried around a note card filled with hash marks to force her into awareness of her habitual urges, so writing three words forces a moment of attention. If, fifteen minutes after eating a donuts, you still feel an urge to get up and go to the cafeteria, then your habit isn’t motivated by a sugar craving.
She turned down the volume on the television so, instead of hearing words, all she could detect was the tone of the questioner’s voice. When witnesses smiled more, or sat closer to the person asking the questions, they were more likely to misremember.
The reward I was seeking was a temporary distraction – the kind that comes from gossiping with a friend. Other times it seemed like too much work to find a friend willing to chat – it was easier to get a cookie, and so I gave in to the urge. But at about 3:30 everyday, I absentmindedly stand up, look around the newsroom for someone to talk to, spend 10 minutes gossiping about the news, and then go back to my desk. Slap a banana on your desk in the morning in anticipation of a sugar craving later in the day instead of getting caught with your willpower down by the break-room and cookies.


For what defines us is what we are attached to, what we don’t want to give up (goods, concepts, passions), more than any essence or identity.
Basic training teaches soldiers carefully designed habits for how to shoot, think, and communicate under i¬?re. The next day, go to the cafeteria, buy an apple, and eat it while chatting with your friends. What’s more, studies show that writing down a few words helps in later recalling what you were thinking at that moment.
Other eyewitnesses, on the other hand, can remember the crimes they’ve seen with near-perfect recall. But when she watched videotape after videotape of witness interviews, looking for these cues, she couldn’t see anything. Latour would like to revise Descartes’s dictum “I think, therefore I am” to “I am what I am attached to.” This attachment is to both material things and values at the same time. On the battlei¬?eld, every command that's issued draws on behaviors practiced to the point of automation. Your routine is that you get up from your desk in the afternoon, walk to the cafeteria, buy a chocolate chip cookie and eat it while chatting with friends. Most cravings are like this: obvious in retrospect, but incredibly hard to see when we are under their sway. At the end of the experiment, when you review your notes, it will be much easier to remember what you were thinking and feeling at that precise instant, because your scribbled words will trigger a wave of recollection.
It’s an easy solution and one that may make you feel better in the moment, but will it work?
What’s helped me the most was reading The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg and learning about how habits work, what habits do for people, and how people can modify their behavior to create new habits or subvert old ones. The entire organization relies on endlessly rehearsed routines for building bases, setting strategic priorities, and deciding how to respond to attacks. Then, instead of going to the cafeteria, walk over to your friend’s office and gossip for a few minutes and go back to your desk. Eventually, it got be automatic: when the alarm rang, I found a friend, and ended the day feeling a small, but real, sense of accomplishment.
In those early days of the war, when the insurgency was spreading and death tolls were mounting, commanders were looking for habits they could instill among soldiers and Iraqis that might create a durable peace.
And when I couldn’t find anyone to chat with, I went to the cafeteria and bought tea and drank it with friends.
He was an army major who had analyzed videotapes of recent riots and had identii¬?ed a pattern: Violence was usually preceded by a crowd of Iraqis gathering in a plaza or other open space and, over the course of several hours, growing in size. He had attended classes that taught him habits for saving money, exercising each day, and communicating with bunkmates. As he moved up the ranks, he learned the importance of organizational habits in ensuring that subordinates could make decisions without constantly asking permission, and how the right routines made it easier to work alongside people he normally couldn't stand. And now, as an impromptu nation builder, he was seeing how crowds and cultures abided by many of the same rules. In some sense, he said, a community was a giant collection of habits occurring among thousands of people that, depending on how they're ini¬‚uenced, could result in violence or peace.
In addition to removing the food vendors, he had launched dozens of different experiments in Kufa to ini¬‚uence residents' habits. He told me that prior to entering the military, his best career option had been repairing telephone lines, or, possibly, becoming a methamphetamine entrepreneur, a path some of his high school peers had chosen to less success. Now, he oversaw eight hundred troops in one of the most sophisticated i¬?ghting organizations on earth. I tell my soldiers all the time, there's nothing you can't do if you get the habits right." In the past decade, our understanding of the neurology and psychology of habits and the way patterns work within our lives, societies, and organizations has expanded in ways we couldn't have imagined i¬?fty years ago. We understand how to make people eat less, exercise more, work more efi¬?ciently, and live healthier lives. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.



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