“Excellence is not a singular act, but a habit. You are what you repeatedly do.” - Shaquille O’Neal, or Aristotle (origin unclear)
The Power of Habit is a life-changing book.
This is because our habits determine the quality of our lives. Over time, it is not the big events, but the thousands of small daily habits that determine our destiny, our success, and our happiness in life.
Getting control of our habits — cultivating good habits to replace the bad — means changing the course of our life. But getting control of habits, as we all know, is much easier said than done. The Power of Habit gives you a formula for changing your life, one habit at a time.
The Habit Loop: A Handy 3-Part Formula
Author Charles Duhigg had a successful career as a journalist for The New York Times, a successful marriage, and plenty of friends, but couldn’t get around one fact: every day around 3:00 pm, he had a habit of eating cookies. As he began gaining weight, he asked himself, Why is this cookie habit so hard to kick?
Central to understanding habits is the habit loop, which consists of three parts.
1) A cue, which can be either external or internal. When the cue is external, there’s some identifiable interruption, like an IM window luring us into a chat, or a news feed popup, beckoning us to scan the headlines. More often the cue is internal; it happens inside us, seemingly out of the blue. It feels like a nagging feeling, a compulsion, or an “itch.” For example, “I need a drink” or “I haven’t checked email in a while.”
2) A routine is the habit itself: we spend the next half hour on Reddit, or exercising, or drinking. (Or all three simultaneously.)
3) The reward is the feeling we get from scratching the itch. Maybe we feel a sense of satisfaction from scanning all the latest news headlines, or a small feeling of completeness from biting a nail clean. Exercisers have the reward of an endorphin rush; alcoholics have the reward of being comfortably numb.
If you habitually check and answer email, for example (one of the most prevalent bad habits, because it interrupts your flow of concentration and reduces productivity), you’re probably only dimly aware of that “cue” even happening. It’s almost unconscious. You may be bored, or putting off a difficult task, but before you know it, the cue has started, and you’re refreshing your email (routine) and caught up in your fantasy football newsletter (reward).
One study shows that over 40% of the actions we perform each day are unconscious — they’re habits. At one time, they were conscious, but our brains are wired to pick up patterns that produce rewards, then repeat them again and again, until they become an unconscious habit.
The habit loop: much more obvious if you’re a mouse.
By and large, habits are a blessing. Think of habits like speaking, writing, typing, driving, or brushing our teeth — they enable us not just to stay alive, but to master the world. But occasionally, habits can become a curse. When they’re no longer working for you, here’s how to change them.
How to Change Your Habits
As we all know, the habit loop, once established, can be very difficult to break. Fortunately, there’s a way out. It requires taking three conscious steps:
1) Observe how the process above works with your particular habits;
2) Replace the old routine with a new one, trying to keep the cue and reward the same.
3) Repeat, consistently keeping the cue and reward, until it becomes a habit.
In Duhigg’s example above, he realized that his cookie-habit cue was the time of day (3:30 pm), the routine was to go to the cafeteria and eat cookies, and his reward was not as much the cookies as it was taking a break and socializing with friends. So he began consciously changing the routine to simply get up from his desk at 3:30, spend a few minutes gossiping with colleagues, then return to work.
The cue and reward stayed the same, but the routine changed.
You need to “bookend” a new habit with both a strong cue and a positive reward — which will encourage the routine to happen on its own.
Let’s say you have a habit of procrastinating certain tasks on your to-do list.
- First, make a note of what types of tasks you tend to procrastinate, or the time of day (the cue);
- Then figure out how you procrastinate — maybe you visit time-wasting sites like Facebook, or you simply daydream (the routine);
- Then figure out how it makes you feel in the short term (the reward);
- Then figure out a cue and reward that are similar, but will encourage a new routine. For example, taking 15 minutes of structured “time away from the computer” every day at 10:30 am might give you the same reward, but encourage a new routine.
How to Create New Habits
Many times, it’s not about getting rid of a negative habit, but creating a new one (like exercising, or balancing the checkbook).
In this case, you want to consistently create a new cue and reward to encourage the new routine.
If you want to start working out, Duhigg says, you need a cue, such as putting your running shoes or workout clothes beside your bed, so they’ll be the first thing you see in the morning. Don’t make New Year’s Resolution-type goals, just put the workout bra by your bed.
Next, give yourself a consistent reward — for example, a smoothie after your workout. Stick with the cue and reward until you find yourself practicing the new routine — which, if you are faithful about your cues and rewards, will eventually become a new habit.
We Believe in Great Habits
At Media Shower, we have a huge interest in helping our team develop great habits. That’s because the more we learn to master our personal work habits, the better our company becomes.
We also work to develop good habits for our clients, whether that’s posting great blog content every day, or promoting that content well. Companies with good habits — especially good content habits — are far more likely to have successful results.
Filled with engaging stories, The Power of Habit is a great book that will help you master your personal and professional life, one habit at a time. Check it out here.