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The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg Book Summary

Book Summary — The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg

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#1 – Nearly everything we do daily is because of our habits. But all of our habits are simply a result of us training ourselves to do them via our daily routines. Think about your drive to work. That is a habit. Have you ever arrived at work and thought, wow I don’t even remember driving here. You’ve done this routine so many times that this habit becomes part of our workday. Your brain loves habits because it doesn’t have to think as hard when running that same old pattern. Habits affect every aspect of our lives. Our habits can affect our outlook on life. Our habits can determine if we workout daily. We make choices and habits of who we spend our time with. The list of habits and autopilot choices we make daily go on and on. But all of these choices are simply the outcome of what the author calls “habit loops”.

A habit loop consists of three steps. The first step of the habit loop is a cue or trigger that causes your brain to routinely begin the habit. The second step is the routine or act of the habit itself. The habit can be physical or mental. And the third step of the habit loop is the reward, which your brain looks at as a reason to remember this habit and then repeat it again and again in the future.

#2 – To change any habit… bad, good, or in between… you have to recognize the trigger that begins your three-step habit loop. Knowing the routine you want to change is the easy part. It is identifying this first step in the habit loop that is key. So this trigger or cue can be a person, a certain behavior or action, a location, a time of day, a smell, or even an emotional state. If you’re having trouble identifying this trigger, just write down all the conscious and subconscious actions you take prior to your routine you want to change.

Next, you will want to establish what rewards you are obtaining from this routine. Now, this may take some experimenting by testing varying new routines. Let’s say you drink a coke every afternoon… is the reward the sugar, is it thirst quenching, is it a nice break from work, is it because you’re lacking energy? So we could test varying new routines to see what the reward is… we can swap it out for coffee to test the energy reward, we can swap it out for carbonated water to test if it is the bubbly reward, we can swap it out with a conversation with a coworker if our reward was simply an excuse for a break by walking to the soda machine every day. You will know it is the correct reward once you stick to this new routine and stop even having the urge for your bad habit of drinking coke.

So let’s recap. After identifying our trigger as a time of day, we then tested new routines to identify our reward. After testing new routines, the only one that eliminated our urge for coke was replacing the coke with coffee… so our reward was increased energy. Now with all three steps of our habit loop identified: the trigger, the routine, and the reward, we can now swap out that old routine of drinking coke permanently and change our bad habit for good!

#3 – Remember this formula: New Habit = Old Trigger + (New Routine – Old Routine) + Old Reward

Once you figure out these three steps in your habit loop… the trigger, the routine, and the reward, all you need to do is swap the routine out for the new one you want, and keep the old trigger and old reward the same. So think of it like a sandwich… the routine is the meat, while the trigger and the reward are the slices of bread. We are keeping the trigger and reward the same. We are simply replacing or interrupting the old routine with our new routine of choice. This is why going cold turkey on not biting your nails, or not smoking, insert your vice here… rarely works. Let’s take the example of biting your nails. The trigger is when you are bored you bite your nails. The routine is nail-biting. And the reward is completion; you completely trimmed your nails. So next time you are bored and are consider biting your nails, replace that routine with a new routine, such as pushing down your nails cuticles. Once you have all your cuticles pushed down, voilà you have your reward of completion!

#4 – Changing old habits is great, but what about creating new habits? If you want to start a NEW habit, you need a simple trigger and clear reward. For example, if you want to start working out, make the cue something as easy as putting on specific workout clothes or lacing up your running shoes. Then for the reward, food is always great, maybe something like a smoothie or protein bar… or if you like visuals, maybe even a calendar you can mark big X’s on after you complete your workout.

#5 – Have an accountability partner (or partners). This can be your friend, spouse, family member, social media. Basically, anybody who will check in on you and make sure you’re not slipping on your goals. Changing a habit is no easy task when attempted alone; so even sharing your goal to change a habit with one person will be helpful. Committing to a goal out loud and to someone who will hold you accountable greatly increasing your chances of success (plus it adds the peer pressure factor).

#6 – Identify all your negative habits right away. It is these negative habits that will leach into other parts of your life… such as poor eating habits, bad money management, not getting eight hours of sleep, and so on. The ultimate goal is to replace these negative, bad habits or routines with positive habits… such as, starting your day with meditation, setting a weekly date night with your significant other, exercising three times a week, the list goes on and on… just make sure to share these new positive habit goals with your accountability partner.

#7 – Another strategy to take on a big habit change is to accomplish small wins that will compound into the big habit change eventually. For example, do one pushup every day. Just one. Or how about flossing a single tooth. Yes, one tooth! Make the small wins so easy that they will snowball into more action and grow your own willpower to take on bigger changes in your life!

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