Monday, August 10, 2015

Book Report: The Power of Habit

General Overview: It is often said that we are creatures of habit, in that many of our daily activities end up being a matter of routine rather than direct deliberation (just think of your morning routine). While this is no doubt true, author Charles Duhigg insists that this is but the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the impact that habits have on our daily lives. In his book, ‘The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business’ Duhigg argues that habits pervade not only our personal lives, but that they have an integral role to play in the businesses and other organizations of which we are a part. They are also at the heart of social movements and societies at large. Given that this is the case, and given that there is a world of difference between good habits and bad, getting our habits right can mean the difference between success and failure not only in our personal lives, but in our professional lives, and in the communities in which we live. Now, while our habits may be deeply ingrained, most of us recognize that they can be changed. Duhigg argues that a proper understanding of our habits reveals not only that they can be changed, but also the most effective ways to change them. It remains only for us to use these lessons to help improve ourselves as well as the organizations and communities of which we are a part.
Favorite Part: The first part of the book was my favorite because it focuses on the role that habits play in our personal lives. Here we learn about the habit loop consisting of cue, routine, and reward, and how the elements in this loop can be manipulated to help modify our habits (say from crashing on the couch with a bag of chips, to heading out for a run). We also learn about the power of particular habits called keystone habits (which include exercise, as well as eating together as a family) that help initiate a domino effect that touches all of the other aspects of our lives. Also, we learn about the power of belief and the importance of social groups in helping create this belief that stands behind successful habit transformation programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous.
Related: Like mentioned in the lecture slides, rewards are reinforcers. They increase the likelihood of a behavior. Skinner showed how positive reinforcement worked by placing a hungry rat in his Skinner box. The box contained a lever in the side and as the rat moved about the box it would accidentally knock the lever. Immediately it did so a food pellet would drop into a container next to the lever. The rats quickly learned to go straight to the lever after a few times of being put in the box. The consequence of receiving food if they pressed the lever ensured that they would repeat the action again and again. Positive reinforcement strengthens a behavior by providing a consequence an individual finds rewarding. For example, if your teacher gives you five dollars each time you complete your homework, you are more likely to repeat this behavior in the future, therefore strengthening the behavior of completing your homework.
Creative: I have created a quiz focused on the types of reinforcement. Test out what you know and see how many you get right! The answers are located at the bottom of the page. Goodluck!
1. Negative reinforcement increases the strength or frequency of a response by ______ an aversive stimulus.
  1. Increasing
  2. Decreasing
  3. Removing
  4. Ignoring
2. An employee receives a reward for his work, but the reinforcement is only awarded for the first response after a specified period of time. This schedule produces a high rate of response near the end of the specified time period, with a drop in response after the reward has been given. What type of reinforcement schedule is being used?
  1. Variable Ratio Schedule
  2. Fixed Ratio Schedule
  3. Variable Interval Schedule
  4. Fixed Interval Schedule
3. What is a reinforcer?
  1. Any event that strengthens or increases a response.
  2. Something the individual finds pleasant.
  3. Anything that decreases a response.
  4. An incentive
4. What learning process did B.F. Skinner describe?
  1. Classical Conditioning
  2. Operant Conditioning
  3. Modeling
  4. Observational Learning
5. Which of the following is true of learning?
  1. Learning is relatively permanent.
  2. Learning involves a change in behavior.
  3. Learning occurs through experience.
  4. All of the above.
6. If a child is rewarded for appropriate behavior every fifteen minutes, what type of schedule is being used? 
  1. Fixed ratio
  2. Variable ratio
  3. Fixed interval
  4. Variable interval
7. Salespeople who are paid exclusively by commission are reinforced on which type of schedule?
  1. Fixed ratio
  2. Fixed interval
  3. Variable ratio
  4. Variable interval
8. Behaviors that have been reinforced on a variable schedule are more difficult to extinguish than those that have been continuously reinforced. This is known as:
  1. The partial reinforcement effect
  2. An extinction schedule
  3. Shaping
  4. Avoidance conditioning
9. Learning that results from the consequences of behavior is called
  1. Extinguished conditioning
  2. Operant conditioning
  3. Classical conditioning
  4. Positive conditioning
10.  Reinforcers that are innately reinforcing, such as food, water, and warmth are called
  1. Primary reinforcers
  2. Secondary reinforcers
  3. Negative reinforcers
  4. Positive reinforcers
Extension: I do believe The Power of Habit can help solve a real world problem or address a current issue. The book focuses on how habits help shape businesses and organizations. Here we learn that the formation of habits and routines within organizations is unavoidable. It is always best for the leadership of a group to make a deliberate effort to shape the habits of their organizations. It is still important to make it clear who is in charge of each particular aspect of the operation. Second, we learn that keystone habits, which are at the center of our personal lives, are also essential when it comes to larger organizations. We also learn about the greatest keystone habit of all: willpower, and how this habit can best be cultivated (and how companies such as Starbucks are employing these lessons to help train employees successfully). Finally, we learn about how companies such as Proctor & Gamble and Target instill habits in their customers. The third and final part of the book examines the importance of habits in social movements, such as the civil rights movement of the 1960’s. We learn that movements tend to follow a three-part process. To start with, a movement tends to begin with a group of close acquaintances and friends. The movement tends to grow when these people spread it to the broader communities of which they are a part. Finally, in order to really take hold and spread, the movement must be guided forward by an effective leader who lays down new habits for the movement’s members in a way that allows them to gain a sense of identity.

Answer Key: 1. C, 2. D, 3. A, 4. B, 5. D, 6. C, 7. C, 8. A, 9. B, 10. A

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