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. Written by New York Times business reporter Charles Duhigg, the book describes the science of habits, explains how patterns affect productivity, and teaches us how changing patterns in your life and your business can make all the difference between wild success and total failure. As Duhigg explains, our brain is consistently looking to conserve energy so it “chunks” sequences of actions together, developing automatic routines in our behavior – those actions we tend to do mindlessly – which leaves room for it to focus on other things.
In order to change an automatic routine or habit, it’s important to understand the way they work.
The Golden Rule of habit change, as shown in the third wheel, is keeping the same cue and reward, but changing the routine in the middle. Understanding how habits can affect the success or failure of an industry, Get the Picture took on a self-directed project to interview a dozen veteran graphic practitioners and facilitators with the intent to uncover the best habits for fully leveraging the power of using visuals. Besides gathering lots of insightful information on how graphics, when well-integrated, can produce high levels of excitement, increase participant interaction and encourage higher-level thinking that leads to new insight – we’ve also learned that although more and more people are turning to visuals as a resource, far too many of them do not get the full value out of working with a facilitator and graphic recorder in their meetings.
Oftentimes, what you find when visuals are not being utilized to their full extent, is that both the client and the facilitator are new to graphic recording, meaning neither of them has experienced the full depth of potential the tool or their graphic recorder have to offer. As the field of practitioners expands, practices diversify and the demand for graphic recording increases, we’re excited to promote the use of visuals as a process tool and support the development of good habits for using graphic recording. Check back soon for our first post to discover exciting ways to get the ultimate value out of your meeting visuals. Scott Adams, best-selling author and creator or the world-famous Dilbert comic strip, holds that passion is overrated and that goals are, quite literally, for losers. In other words, if you’re constantly eyeing “Mount Fluency” as you proceed the long climb that is foreign language acquisition, you may very well increase your odds of giving up before even reaching conversation ridge, or so the argument goes. And yet, uncommon as the following example may be, people such as polyglot Benny Lewis, who runs one of the most successful language learning blogs on the internet and who’s learned 12 languages over the past 10+ years, claims that passion is not part of his toolbox. Besides, what about passionate language learners who don’t get to be interviewed simply because they haven’t been that successful, after all? To answer this question, let us begin at a different place, in the realm of psychology and at the thrilling edge of scientific discoveries that explain why habits exist and how they can be changed.
Scott Adams adds that if you believe people use reason for important decisions in life, “you will go through life feeling confused and frustrated that others seem to have bad reasoning skills”.
So over the years you may have, say, developed a habit of turning on the TV as soon as you come back from work or school.
In The Power of Habit, Pulitzer Prize–winning business reporter Charles Duhigg takes us to the thrilling edge of scientific discoveries that explain why habits exist and how they can be changed. Indeed, MIT researchers discovered a simple neurological loop at the core of every habit, a loop that consists of three parts: first, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. As Duhigg mentions, the reason the discovery of the habit loop is so important is that it reveals a basic truth. To understand your own habits, you need to identify the components of your own habit loop(s) — this is crucial.
Finally, you should note that besides the importance of identifying the components of your habits, Duhigg mentions the “Golden Rule” of habit change: if you keep the same cue and the same reward, a new routine can be inserted. But we also all sort of know instinctively that passion and ruthless goal setting is what drives all of this, whether it’s a habit loop or an unfettering drive to reach the distant, ambitious goal of “becoming fluent” in a given foreign language. So we need to be passionate and goal oriented, and success will come chasing us like a mad dog after its tail. If you remember, Dilbert creator Scott Adams’ argument is that goals are for losers (and a bit more bluntly, that passion is bullshit).
And when it comes to passion, we know that passionate people who fail don’t get a chance to offer their advice to the rest of us. According to Adams, the alternative to getting trapped into believing that passion and goal setting is all that matters in skills acquisition is to approach learning from a systems perspective.
Do you see the parallel that we can draw between approaching learning from a systems perspective and developing healthy, sustainable habits (the topic of the previous section)? The great thing about the science behind developing habits and Scott Adams’ insights into the systems-vs-goal model is that all of this can be applied not only to language learning but to any other learning endeavor. It comes down to using the Golden Rules of habit to insert a new routine into your daily life, but by keeping the same cue and reward for a particular activity (say, watching TV, using Facebook, snacking on the couch, etc.).
You may think listening to 30 minutes of your favorite language learning audio method every day sounds like a goal. While you may not be the impassioned but highly successful language learner characterized by Benny Lewis and a few others, you may not either be the type of person who calls to Walmart service centers around the world just to practice their language skills (now that smells like raw passion). The question is: do habits, or a systems approach to acquiring skills, indeed trump passion? I’ve had plenty of experience with people who are not passionate about a subject but understand that it is required of them in order to achieve something else who have learned that subject very well. The idea that success in all things can be encoded in a simplistic formula like that is absurd.
I get the systems vs goals thing, and I mostly agree with it (although you must have a destination in mind to avoid meandering meaninglessly; for example, knowing how you want to use a language will help you know what to focus on).
First, I’m going to say what I should have above, and thank you for bringing this book to my attention. II must say, it feels like you are implying that Benny’s message is purely about passion, and that is far from the truth.

I wouldn’t say goals are for losers, as long as they are aligned with your core values and mission. However, many language learners do not believe that they actually need to learn their target languages. We often think passion as a key but the truth is, we all language learnes can easily say that we are passionate about learning the language.
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. So, instead of getting coffee every afternoon, perhaps you could take a 15-minute walk at 3 PM instead. Learn how to fully (and meaningfully) integrate graphic recording into your entire meeting process and be sure to take part in the conversation by leaving your comments below. You know, those who got halfway to conversation ridge and who decided to climb back down to the base camp — perhaps because they felt they just didn’t have what it took to make it to the top?
They can cause our brains to cling to them at the exclusion of all else, including common sense and, of course, success in language learning.
While last year you may have committed yourself to start learning French in earnest for the New Year (or, say, set the goal of “becoming fluent” in the language), you may now look back at what’s happened over the past several months and realize just how far you’ve fallen off the mark.
Scientists say habits emerge because the brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort.
When you show up at the office, you happen to start craving a muffin and a coffee in the early afternoon at more or less the same time, every day. Once you have diagnosed a particular behavior’s habit loop, you can look for ways to supplant old vices with new routines. By not making use of the knowledge acquired in the classroom and incorporating it into their personal lives, language students waste a golden opportunity to leverage their routine to their advantage, allowing for the acquisition of a foreign language at a much faster pace.
In fact,  you’ve probably been bombarded with popular sayings such as “set goals if you want to accomplish anything substantial in life” or a variation thereof. Adams defines a “goal” as a specific objective that you either achieve or don’t sometime in the future. But successful passionate people are writing books and answering interview questions about their secrets for success every day. Simply put, a system is something you do on a regular basis and which increases your odds of success or happiness in the long run. But for our purposes, unlike goals systems have no deadlines, and on any given day you probably can’t tell if they’re moving you in the right direction.
However, the question is whether passion brings success or whether it’s the opposite. There is a big difference between not being passionate (meh) about something and being oppositional (argh! First off it completely fails to take into account the inherent randomness that effects every aspect of human endeavor from the thoughts we think while we shower to what we decide to do on a Saturday night to the friendships we form to car accidents or cancer or to a global economic crisis.
He does list it as an essential ingredient, and says that those with passion do better than those without, but he also gives a lot of the same advice you did here, about making learning a part of one’s daily routine. What I do agree is that the process of achieving your goal, which implies in developping new habits, are more important than the outcome.
When faced with the daily committment that a new language requires, what do they have to motivate them?
Something I’ve written on previously is that most people value the least important aspects of language learning the most and only give the most important aspects an occasional thought. That way you get the reward you’re looking for … and add a little exercise and rejuvenation into your day without extra caffeine! By paying close attention to their routines, businesses can encourage the good ones, and change the ones that are detrimental to their success. It seems fair to assume that there are a lot of those people too; in fact probably a much larger number than the ones making headlines for their foreign language speaking prowess. From ancient Greeks to the labs of MIT, the conclusion is strikingly similar: we are governed by habits, whether we like it or not. In fact, habits are so important that the World Bank, the world’s largest development institution whose goal is to eradicate poverty on a global scale, has dedicated the latest issue of its most important and influential annual report on human decision making (“Mind, Society, and Behavior”), one of three principles of which is “automatic thinking”. As you’ll have probably guessed, the former speaks to automatic thinking, or what we more commonly refer to as habits. Think about it for a moment: if you took a human from a remote, landlocked community where no one has ever heard of a thing called swimming, and you threw him in the ocean, it’s likely that he would panic and drown. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future.
For example, there are good chances that you have a tendency to compulsively check your social media feed. But scientists have found that for habits to permanently change, people must believe that change is feasible.
Plus, every time you’ve seen interviews of mind-blowingly successful individuals, you’ve likely noticed a tendency for them to drop the word “passion” every now and then. That is, start building sustainable habits that will get you through motivation peaks and troughs. Fluency will get you to the top, but by approaching the climb from a systems perspective, you can be sure that you’re seriously increasing your chances of choosing the route that’ll get you to the top sooner or later. In the long run, they add up to something that’s pretty impressive, like the ability to have a conversation with a native speaker on the streets of Paris, or the ability to understand a movie in your target language.
People such as Scott Adams argue that, rather than passion bringing success, becoming successful at something brings passion. Real success is far more about what we choose to do in the face of things that happen to us and those choices are frequently limited by factors out of our control.
Does passion alone provide the fuel necessary to go through the peaks and troughs of motivation, among others?

I don’t expect to agree with everything 100%, but I do expect to learn more than a few things from it.
As easy as it is to point at the broad points he makes about passion, he also makes a lot of very specific points about direct techniques that will allow one to develop a system. Basic training teaches soldiers carefully designed habits for how to shoot, think, and communicate under i¬?re.
The loop begins when we are triggered by something that initiates one of our automatic routines with the goal of achieving a certain reward. Swimming isn’t entirely natural to humans, and neither is playing the guitar, driving a car, or surfing for that matter.
Your routine is to show up at the cafeteria with a colleague and buy your coffee and muffin. For the rest, though, you’ll have to get yourself a copy of Duhigg’s book; it might just happen to be the best couple of bucks you’ll ever get to spend this year. While we can argue about semantics, the important thing to take home from what we’ve covered thus far is that you should approach language learning from a habit-building, systems perspective.
After all, there are a lot of people out there who are extremely passionate about doing a certain activity and yet they may not become successful at it.
While passion can certainly help, in the long run developing solid habits may prove more sustainable.
However, having goals such as becoming minimally conversational in Spanish because I expect to take regular vacations in Mexico, or becoming highly fluent in Russian so that I can read the classics in their original language, are the kind of helpful goals that will direct my learning plans.
For me, passion is the shiny window of the learning process but at the bottom the one who studies systematically wins.
To really learn a language we need a social group of native or at least fluent speakers who can help us by practicing our language skills with us and providing feedback.
On the battlei¬?eld, every command that's issued draws on behaviors practiced to the point of automation. Your options are to feel empty and useless, perhaps enjoying the spoils of your success until they bore you, or set new goals and reenter the cycle of permanent pre-success failure”. Adams underlines that being systems oriented allows him to grow more capable every day, no matter the fate of the project he happens to be working on (think language learning in our case). In the end, whether developing solid habits in any particular area requires passion is up for debate. In the long run, developing sustainable habits can make the whole process easier and enhance one’s chances at making progress without giving up because of a sudden lack of interest or passion.
Both of those goals are very different from each other and would mean a different approach to how I go about studying those languages. Show me a single learner who’s achieved fluency without having formed friendships with native speakers (tutors, language partners, whatever)!
Heck , I’ve learned English by googling stuff I found in games and a few grammar courses. The entire organization relies on endlessly rehearsed routines for building bases, setting strategic priorities, and deciding how to respond to attacks. The good news is that developing healthy habits, or getting rid of not-so-good ones, is also something that can be learned.
I have no doubts you have developed a habit of brushing your teeth every day, but it does not mean you’re passionate about it.
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.
It just happens that the science behind this whole process was unknown to us until a team of brainy MIT researchers began pondering about that problem in the early 1990s. Habits control our lives without us realizing it; the crux of the article is that habits can be change and by approaching habit formation from a systems perspective, it can lead to great results in the mid to long-term. But I’ve also known adults learning English who have learned it well because they had to learn it well to be successful at their jobs.
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.
Whats-more, I don’t think a lot of these people would have said they were passionate about their careers either. A student who has 3 or so native speakers he can talk to and correspond with, has good study habits, and has set a measurable goal will learn a language well even with mediocre learning materials.
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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