THE POWER OE
HABITBy Charles DUIlUid
HABITThis article was adaptedfrom Duhigg's New YorkTimes bestseller, ThePower of Habit: WhyWe Do What We Do
in Life and Business
(Random House, 2012).
IN 200;"). THE LATE WRITER David Foster
Wallace shared the following cautionary tale with a group of graduatingcollege students:
"There are these Iwo young fish swimming along and they happen to meet anolder fish swimming the other way, whonods at them and says, 'Morning boys,how's the water?' The two young fishswim on for a bit, and then eventuallyone of them looks over at the other and
goes, 'What Ihe hell is water?'"Foster Wallace was reminding the
students that, just like those Fish, ourlives are largely determined by factors we never fully notice: our habits,those unthinking, automatic choicesthat surround us each day. They guidehow we get dressed in the morning andfall asleep at night. They affect what weeat, how we do business, and whether
we exercise or have a beer after work.
Each of our habils has a different
catalyst and offers a unique payoff.Some are simple and others are complex,drawing upon emotional triggers andoffering subtle neurochemical prizes.But every habit, no matter its complexity, is malleable. The most addictedalcoholic can become sober. The most
dysfunctional families can transformthemselves. A high school dropout canbecome a successful executive.
Changing habils is not just a matter of willpower, despite what you'veprobably learned. Sure, we all havehabits we've tried to break and failed.
And good habils we've tried to acquireand dropped. But. Ihe real obstacle tochange for most people is not a lack ofdetermination it's a lack of under
standing how habit works.As it happens, habits all get modi
fied in somewhat the same way. Whenan individual successfully (puts smoking or an organization changes collective behavior to improve its safetystandards, there are certain universal
patterns at work.During their extensive studies of the
underpinnings of habit in the 1990s,researchers at the Massachusetts Institute
of Technology discovered a simple neurological loop at the core of every habit.All habits, it turns out, consist of three
parts: a routine, a reward and a cue. Theresearchers dubbed this the "habit loop."
As they studied people and organizations who had successfully changedstubborn, pernicious behaviors, theylearned that they all followed more orless the same steps: They had identified the routine around the habit,
experimented with different rewardsto satisfy the craving the behavior wastrying to fulfill, and isolated the cuethat triggered the behavior in Ihe firstplace. Finally, those who successfullyexecuted habit change had put a planin place that would help them responddifferently to the cue (whether it wasfatigue driving them to caffeine orloneliness driving them to the bar) andnudge them in the direction of Ihe newhabit, thus preventing an unconsciousreturn to the old behavior.
If you have a problem behavior withwhich you're ready to part ways (andwho doesn't?), the following steps willshow you how to deploy this framework so you can manifest the changeyou want to embrace. ->
ExperienceLife.com / EXPERIENCE LIFE / 57
ONEIdentify the RoutineLet's say you have a bad habit. Maybeit's a habit like my chocolate chipcookie routine. (I work at the New
York Times, and for a long lime everyafternoon I'd head for the cafeteria for1a cookie and a little socializing.)
Let's say your habit has caused youto gain a few pounds. In fact, let's saythis habit has caused you to gain exactly 8 pounds,and that your wife has made a few pointedcomments. You've tried to force yourself to slopyou even went so far as to put a Fost-it on yourcomputer that reads NO MORE COOKIES.
But every alternoon you manage to ignorethat note, get up, wander toward the cafeteria,buy a cookie, and, while chatting with colleaguesaround the cash register, eat it. It feels good. Thenit feels bad. Tomorrow, you promise yourself,you'll muster the willpower to resist. Tomorrowwill be different.
But tomorrow the habit takes hold again.How do you ever hope to change this behavior,
especially if the cookies are good?The first step is to identify the routine. Willi
most habits, the routine is the most obvious aspect:It's the behavior you want to change. Let's say your
fcl CRAVING ^vC>l^% FOR RELIEF ^^
Research shows that habits aren't broken, they'remodified and it's possible to satisfy harmful
cravings simply by adopting a healthier routine.
routine, like mine, is that you get up from yourdesk in the afternoon, walk to the cafeteria, buy acookie, and eat it while chatting with friends.
Next, some less obvious questions: What'sthe cue for this routine? Is it hunger? Boredom?Low blood sugar? That you need a break beforeplunging into another task?
And what's the reward? The cookie itself?
The change of scenery? The temporary distraction? Socializing with colleagues? Or the burst ofenergy that comes with that blast of sugar?
To figure this out, you'll need to do a littleexperimentation.
WITH MOST HABITS, THE ROUTINE IS THEMOST OBVIOUS ASPECT: It's the behavioryou want to change.
TWOExperimentWith RewardsRewards are powerful because they satisfy cravings. We're often not consciousof the cravings that actually drive ourbehaviors, though. We might thinkwe're craving a little online shopping,but it's really something else we're after distraction from an odious task, or
the chance to daydream a little.To figure out which cravings are
driving particular habits, it's useful toexperiment with different rewards. Thismight take a few days, or a week orsometimes even longer. No matter howlong it takes, you shouldn't feel anypressure to make a real change yet. Atthis point, just think of yourself as ascientist collecting data.
On the first day of the experiment,when you feel the urge to submit to ahabit you want to change, adjust yourroutine so it delivers a different reward.
For instance, If it involves getting acookie, you can still get up from yourdesk, but instead of walking to the cafeteria, walk around the block and go backto your desk without eating anything.
The next day, go to the cafeteria andbuy a doughnut or a candy bar, and eat itat your desk. The day after that, go to thecafeteria, buy an apple, and eat it whilechatting with your friends. Then, try acup of coffee. Then, instead of going tothe cafeteria, walk over to your not-too-busy friend's office and gossip for a fewminutes before going back to your desk.
You get the idea. What you chooseto do instead of buying a cookie isn'timportant. The point is to test differenthypotheses to see which craving is driving your routine.
Addicts in recovery learn earlythat they almost never drink for theintoxication, but because it helps themaccess certain rewards: relief from
work stress, escape from worries, orfreedom from social anxiety.
Writing down a few words after you complete your experiment serves two purposes: Itprovokes awareness of what you are feeling or thinking in the moment, and it will helpclarify the reward you're seeking with your habitual behavior.
So are you really craving the cookie,or is it a break from work? If it's the
cookie, is it because you're hungry? (Inwhich case, the apple should work justas well.) Or is it because you want theburst of energy the cookie provides?(If so, the coffee or apple might suffice.) Or are you wandering up to thecafeteria as an excuse to socialize, and
the cookie is just a convenient excuse?(If so, walking to someone's desk andgossiping for a few minutes may satisfyIhe urge.)
reward. This will help you figure outwhat it is.
After you've scribbled down a fewwords, set an alarm on your watch orcomputer for 15 minutes. When it goesoff, ask yourself: Do you still feel theurge for that cookie?
The purpose of this exercise is todetermine the reward you're craving.If, 15 minutes after eating a doughnutat your desk instead of a cookie bythe cash register, you still feel an urgeto get up and go to the cafeteria, then
THE POINT IS TO TEST DIFFERENT HYPOTHESESTO SEE which craving is driving your routine.
As you test four or \~\vc differentrewards, you can use an old trick tolook for patterns: After each activity, jotdown on a piece of paper the first threethings that come to mind. They canbe emotions, random thoughts, reflections on your feelings or just the firstthree words that pop into your head.
The reason why it's important towrite down three things (even if theyare meaningless words) is twofold. Itforces a momentary awareness of whatyou are thinking or feeling. And studies show that writing down a few wordshelps you recall later what you werethinking at that moment.
At Ihe end of the experiment, whenyou review your notes, it will be mucheasier to remember what you werethinking and feeling after you got the
your habit isn't motivated by a sugarcraving. If, after gossiping at your colleague's desk, you still want a cookie,then the need for human contact isn't
driving your behavior.On the other hand, if 15 minutes
after chatting with a friend you find iteasy to get back to work, then you'veidentified the desired reward temporary distraction and socializing thatyour habit sought to satisfy.
By experimenting with differentrewards, you can isolate what you areactually craving, which is essential inredesigning the habit
Once you've figured out the routineand the reward,