The Power of Habit

The Power of Habit

The Power of Habit, a fascinating new book by New York Times investigative journalist Charles Duhigg, takes a look at the nature of habits and their role in our daily lives. Habits are essentially our brains on auto-pilot, hard-wired neurological routes that grow deep and wide from repetition. There are good habits, like saving money and looking both ways before you cross the street, and bad ones, like procrastinating and binge-eating. Often our bad habits feel out of our hands, maybe even genetic, and so we accept them begrudgingly, like we put up with a nagging relative at a family reunion.

It turns out we don’t have to. Duhigg argues that habits “aren’t destiny―they can be ignored, changed, or replaced.” Sounds good, but how?

It’s simple: figure out the habit loop.

A habit has three major components: a cue, a routine, and a reward. These components form the habit loop. The cue is the trigger that tells your brain to prepare for auto-pilot. The routine can be physical, mental, or emotional; the reward is something that tells your brain whether or not the loop is worth remembering. Chocolate rewards tend to form habits; metal forks in light sockets don’t. If they do, you should make a habit of going to the psychiatrist.

There is a calculus, Duhigg claims, for mastering our subconscious urges, and the answer lies in finding the cues and rewards that influence our routines. I can’t get into too much detail here, but I strongly recommend you read his book―at least take a look at his recent NY Times excerpt called “How Companies Learn Your Secrets.”

That we can control and reshape our habits is not a new idea, but it remains a pertinent one, and Duhigg’s book offers a practical insight into how to deconstruct and wipe out some of our worst impulses, not least of all by putting on the responsibility on the individual: “Once you understand that habits can change, you have the freedom―and the responsibility―to remake them,” he says. “Once you understand that habits can be rebuilt, the power becomes easier to grasp, and the only option left is to get to work.”

Lane Koivu