Sunday, August 12, 2018

The Power of Habit #3 The Golden Rule of Habit Change (or Why Transformation Occurs)

This is a chapter-by-chapter summary of a book by Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business (2012) series. One chapter, one article. Read this summary, buy the book. Enjoy!

"You can never truly extinguish bad habits," writes Charles Duhigg, "Rather, to change a habit, you must keep the old cue, and deliver the old reward, but insert a new routine." That's the rule: If you use the same cue, and provide the same reward, you can shift the routine and change the habit. Almost any behavior can be transformed if the cue and reward stay the same.

For example Anonymous Alcoholics (AA). AA succeed writes Duhigg because it helps alcoholics use the same cues, and get the same reward, but it shifts the routine. The program forces people to identify the cues and rewards that encourage their alcoholic habits and then helps them find new behaviors. "To change an old habit you must address an old craving. You have to keep the same cues and rewards as before, and feed the craving by inserting a new routine."

 Often, intoxication itself doesn't make the list. Alcoholics crave a drink because it offers escape, relaxation, companionship, the blunting of anxieties, and an opportunity for emotional release. They might crave a cocktail to forget their worries. But they don't necessarily crave a cocktail to forget their worries. The physical effects of alcohol are often one of the least rewarding parts of drinking to addicts. So, AA will forces the addicts to create new routines for what to do each night instead of drinking. AA's methods have been refined into therapies that can be used to disrupt almost any pattern.

Now add new routine with the power of belief. Those alcoholics that believed that some Higher Power (or God) had entered their lives were more likely to make it through "the stressful periods with their sobriety intact." It wasn't Higher Power (or God) that mattered, write Duhigg, it was the belief itself that made a difference. Once people learned how to believe in something that skill started spilling over to other parts of their lives until they started believing they could change. The belief was the ingredient that "made a reworked Habit Loop into a permanent behavior." Even if you give people better habits, it doesn't repair why they started drinking in the first place. Eventually, they'll have a bad day, and no new routine is going to make everything seem okay. What can make a difference is believing that they can cope with their stress without alcohol.

"If it worked for that guy, I guess it can work for me." There is something powerful about groups and shared experiences. People might be skeptical about their ability to change if they're by themselves, but a group will convince them to "suspend disbelief." A community creates belief. When people join groups where change seems possible, the potential for that change to occur becomes more real, doable and achievable. Belief is easier when it occurs within a community.

Let us recall: If we keep the same cue and the same reward, a new routine can be inserted. But that's not enough. For a habit to stay changed, people must believe a change is possible. And most often, that belief only emerges with the help of a group. So, if you want to change a habit, you must find an alternative route, and your odds of success go up dramatically when you commit to changing as part of a group. "Belief is essential and it grows out of a communal experience, even if that community is only as large as two people."

You Are the Sum of Your Habit(s)

The Power of Habit #2 The Craving Brain (or How to Create New Habits)

This is a chapter-by-chapter summary of a book by Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business (2012) series. One chapter, one article. Read this summary, buy the book. Enjoy!

CRAVING is what makes cues and rewards work. The craving is what powers the Habit Loop (see the previous summary). Habits create neurological cravings. As we associate cues with certain rewards, a subconscious craving emerges in our brain that starts the Habit Loop spinning.

How to create a new habit? Put together a cue, a routine, and a reward, and then cultivate a craving that drives the loop. A cue and a reward on their own aren't enough for a new habit to last. Only when your brain starts expecting the reward – craving the endorphins or sense of accomplishment – will it become automatic to lace up your jogging shoes each morning, for example. The cue, in addition to triggering a routine, must also trigger a craving for the reward to come.

An example: toothpaste. Claude Hopkins wasn't selling beautiful teeth. He was selling a sensation. Once people craved that cool tingling – once they equate it with cleanliness – brushing became a habit. While everyone brushes their teeth, fewer than 10% of Americans apply sunscreen every day. Why? Charles Duhigg explains: "Because there is no craving that has made sunscreen into a daily habit." He continues, "Craving is what drives habits. And figuring out how to spark a craving makes creating a new habit easier."

You Are the Sum of Your Habit(s)

Friday, August 10, 2018

The Power of Habit #1 The Habit Loop (or How Habits Work)

This is a chapter-by-chapter summary of a book by Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business (2012) series. One chapter, one article. Read this summary, buy the book. Enjoy!

Habit emerge because the brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort.”
(Charles Duhigg)

The Habit Loop: The process with our brain is a three-step loop. First, there is a CUE, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is the ROUTINE, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is a REWARD, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future. See the graph below:

Over time, this Loop becomes more and more automatic. The CUE and REWARD become intertwined until a powerful sense of anticipation and craving emerges. Eventually, a habit is born. So, when a habit emerges, the brain stops fully participating in decision making. It stops working so hard or diverts focus to other tasks. So unless you deliberately fight a habit – unless you find new routines – the pattern will unfold automatically.

Habits never really disappear. They are encoded into the structures of our brain,” explains Duhigg. If we learn to create new neurological routines that overpower those behaviours – if we take control of the Habit Loop – we can force those bad tendencies into the background. And once someone creates a new pattern, studies have demonstrated, going for a jog or ignoring the doughnuts becomes as automatic as any other habit. “Habits,” writes Duhigg, “as much as memory and reason, are at the root of how we behave. We might not remember the experiences that create our habits, but once they are lodged in our brains, it influences how we act… often without our realization.”

For example McDonald and kids. When the kids are starving and parents are driving home after a long day it makes sense to stop by at McDonald's – it’s inexpensive and tastes good. One meal of processed food can’t be that bad, right? (So we reason). But habit emerges without our permission. Studies indicate that families usually don’t intend to eat fast food on a regular basis. But what happens is that a once a month pattern slowly becomes once in a week, and then twice a week.

As the cues and rewards create a habit, the kids are habitually consuming an unhealthy amount of chicken burgers and French fries. There are a number of cues and rewards that most customers never knew were influencing their behaviour – every McDonalds looks the same, the employees say the same things, and so everything is a consistent cue to trigger (unhealthy) eating routines. Duhigg observes, “The fries are designed to begin disintegrating the moment they hit your tongue, in order to deliver a hit of salt and grease as fast as possible, causing your pleasure centers to light up and your brain to lock in the pattern.” Every habit starts from the Habit Loop.

You Are the Sum of Your Habit(s)

The Power of Habit #0 The Habit Cure (Prologue Summary)

This is a chapter-by-chapter summary of a book by Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business (2012) series. One chapter, one article. Read this summary, buy the book. Enjoy!
Change might not be fast and it isn't always easy.
But with time and effort, almost any habit can be reshaped
(Charles Duhigg)

One paper published by a Duke University researcher in 2006 found that more than 40% of the actions people performed each day weren’t actual decisions, but habits. Habits can be changed, “if we understand how they work,” explained Charles Duhigg.

For example, a riot in Iraq. Violence was usually preceded by a crowd of Iraqis gathering in the plaza or other open space and, over the course of several hours, growing in size. Food vendors would show up, as well as spectators. Then, someone would throw a rock or a bottle and “all hell would break loose.” Then one day, a soldier who is an expert in the habit modification program requested from the town’s mayor to “keep food vendors out of the plazas.” The mayor agreed. A few weeks later, a small crowd gathered near the plaza and throughout the afternoon, it grew in size. Some people started chanting angry slogans. But at dusk, the crowd started getting restless and hungry. People looked for the kebab sellers normally filling the plaza, but there were none to be found. The spectators left. The chanters became dispirited. By 8pm, everyone was gone said Duhigg.

Understanding habits is the most important thing I’ve learned in the army,” the major-soldier told Duhigg. “It’s changed everything about how I see the world. You want to fall asleep fast and wake up feeling good? Pay attention to your night-time patterns and what you automatically do when you get up. You want to make running easy? Create triggers to make it a routine. I drill my kids on this stuff. My wife and I write out habit plans for our marriage. This is all we talk about in command meetings. Not one person in Kufa (Iraq) would have told me that we could influence crowds by taking away the kebab stands, but once you see everything as a bunch of habits, it’s like someone gave you a flashlight and a crowbar and you can get to work.”

You Are the Sum of Your Habit(s)

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