In “The Power of Habit: What We Do in Life and Business” author Charles Duhigg presents his research on the underlying causes for habits, and how they shape both our individual lives and society as a whole. Once we understand habits and how they interact and interfere with our daily lives and our own well-beings, we can work to change them, maintain them, or create new, better ones that work more towards our advantage. This book takes a scientific approach to habit shaping and how this formation can be altered. Duhiggs explains the importance of habits, and how they come to build a regularity in our lives, as well as make our daily routines easier. With habits, we do not have to be mentally aware of what we are doing, sometimes even while performing intricate tasks. We can then utilize that saved brain power towards something else. Habits can be positive as well as negative, but both come from the same origin, which is, has Duhiggs explains in detail, the 'habit loop'.
Habits are simple, and easy enough to start, but once they are established they are nearly impossible to completely extinguish. We never truly forget the habits that we have formed, because we have mental pathways to the habit that are just waiting to be awakened once we start footing on that trail again. Habits that need to be quit, must be diligently quit every single day. Duhiggs explains that it is much too easy to slip back into those ruts if you do not make a conscious effort to act differently on a daily basis. On the contrary to habits that need to be changed, “Keystone habits” are those habits that can prove transformative when applied correctly. Duhiggs tells the story of a company named Alcoa, whose new CEO chose workplace safety as his keystone habit. While not truly exciting, a habit such as this appealed to all facets individuals associated with the company, including the workers, the investors, and the management, and proved to be a successful stance to have taken. Duhiggs also explores how companies and big businesses are constantly working to ensure our habit formations continue and to generate big money off of marketing products to us that relate to our habits. This can be a positive or a frightening thing, based off of the fact that products are targeting us based on off behaviors we tend to exhibit without much thought.
My favorite part of the book is Duhiggs explaination on how habits come to form, with a term he calls the “habit loop”. The habit loop is a three-part process which first introduces a cue, which triggers your brain to go on autopilot and let a behavior develop. Secondly the routine unfolds, which is the behavior. The routine itself is what we think about when we think of the word “habits”. The third step in this habit loop is the reward at the end, which reminds our brains in the future of why this loop should continue. This echoes our lecture in the class on rewards, and how they serve as reincforcers of behavior. I also cannot help but think of the idea of self control when an individual aims to make or break a habit, and how conflicting outcomes can alter effectiveness. Duhuggs attributes habit formations to the part of the brain called the basal ganglia, which can take complex behaviors and turn it into an automatic routine in where your mind does not really have to be mentally aware at all. In this light, habits are an advantage to us. In reference to changing a habit that needs to be broken, doing so in a different environment from where the habit thrived is one of the most successful ways. Changing the environment, such as being on a vacation, changes the cues and triggers that the habit loop begins with.
If we think about Howard Rachlin's “Primrose Path” in relation to habits, we can get a better overall understanding of how hard they can be to break. The decision to consistently choose a highly valued particular act that leads to a low valued pattern of acts can form the habit loop in our own lives. If you want to eat healthier, but consistently find yourself unable to resist the ice cream your mother bought and stored in your freezer, you will find yourself in a worse health state than you desired. If you sleep in, for the precious few moments of added comfort, yet find yourself late for work as a result, youre conflicting outcomes are affecting your decisions.
Breaking bad habits can extend on a larger scale to alter how we treat people on a large scale. For example, instead of getting into the habit of ignoring the homeless people on your walk through the city, if you created habits that helped those people, the world would be better off. Maybe that help would be waking up a little earlier and making a few sandwiches to hand out to the hungry, or getting into a routine of working to better the homeless shelters and programs that aid the poor. Really, all of what we do falls into habits. We find certain positive behaviors harder to complete because they are out of the scope of our normal daily habits. If we work to continually change bad habits, and create positive ones, our potential is limitless.
(My video file will not upload so I am emailing it to you, Dr. Berg.)