Notes and Quotes: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

The following are my favorite notes and quotes from Charles Duhigg's The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business.  If you enjoy these quotes, consider picking up a copy of the book.
  1. Most of the choices we make each day may feel like the products of well-considered decision making, but they’re not. They’re habits.
  2. The basal ganglia was central to recalling patterns and acting on them.
  3. This process—in which the brain converts a sequence of actions into an automatic routine—is known as “chunking,” and it’s at the root of how habits form.
  4. Habits, scientists say, emerge because the brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort.
  5. This process within our brains is a three-step loop. First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future.
  6. When a habit emerges, the brain stops fully participating in decision making.
  7. Your brain can’t tell the difference between bad and good habits, and so if you have a bad one, it’s always lurking there, waiting for the right cues and rewards.
  8. Every McDonald’s, for instance, looks the same—the company deliberately tries to standardize stores’ architecture and what employees say to customers, so everything is a consistent cue to trigger eating routines.
  9. The foods at some chains are specifically engineered to deliver immediate rewards—the fries, for instance, are designed to begin disintegrating the moment they hit your tongue, in order to deliver a hit of salt and grease as fast as possible, causing your pleasure centers to light up and your brain to lock in the pattern. All the better for tightening the habit loop.
  10. First, find a simple and obvious cue. Second, clearly define the rewards.
  11. This is how new habits are created: by putting together a cue, a routine, and a reward, and then cultivating a craving that drives the loop.
  12. If you want to start running each morning, it’s essential that you choose a simple cue (like always lacing up your sneakers before breakfast or leaving your running clothes next to your bed) and a clear reward (such as a midday treat, a sense of accomplishment from recording your miles, or the endorphin rush you get from a jog).
  13. Only when your brain starts expecting the reward—craving the endorphins or sense of accomplishment—will it become automatic to lace up your jogging shoes each morning.
  14. To change a habit, you must keep the old cue, and deliver the old reward, but insert a new routine.  Almost any behavior can be transformed if the cue and reward stay the same.
  15. You Can’t Extinguish a Bad Habit, You Can Only Change It.
  16. The physical effects of alcohol are often one of the least rewarding parts of drinking for addicts.
  17. If you identify the cues and rewards, you can change the routine.
  18. When people join groups where change seems possible, the potential for that change to occur becomes more real.
  19. For habits to permanently change, people must believe that change is feasible.
  20. Keystone habits say that success doesn’t depend on getting every single thing right, but instead relies on identifying a few key priorities and fashioning them into powerful levers.
  21. The habits that matter most are the ones that, when they start to shift, dislodge and remake other patterns.
  22. When people start habitually exercising, even as infrequently as once a week, they start changing other, unrelated patterns in their lives, often unknowingly.
  23. Typically, people who exercise start eating better and becoming more productive at work. They smoke less and show more patience with colleagues and family. They use their credit cards less frequently and say they feel less stressed. It’s not completely clear why. But for many people, exercise is a keystone habit that triggers widespread change.
  24. Studies have documented that families who habitually eat dinner together seem to raise children with better homework skills, higher grades, greater emotional control, and more confidence.
  25. Making your bed every morning is correlated with better productivity, a greater sense of well-being, and stronger skills at sticking with a budget.
  26. “Small wins are a steady application of a small advantage,” one Cornell professor wrote in 1984. “Once a small win has been accomplished, forces are set in motion that favor another small win.”
  27. Piling on so much change at once made it impossible for any of it to stick.
  28. Six months into the study, people who kept daily food records had lost twice as much weight as everyone else.
  29. Keystone habits make tough choices—such as firing a top executive—easier, because when that person violates the culture, it’s clear they have to go.
  30. Dozens of studies show that willpower is the single most important keystone habit for individual success.
  31. "Willpower isn’t just a skill. It’s a muscle, like the muscles in your arms or legs, and it gets tired as it works harder, so there’s less power left over for other things.” Muraven
  32. “We’re not in the coffee business serving people,” Howard Behar, the former president of Starbucks, told me. “We’re in the people business serving coffee.
  33. This is how willpower becomes a habit: by choosing a certain behavior ahead of time, and then following that routine when an inflection point arrives.
  34. Simply giving employees a sense of agency—a feeling that they are in control, that they have genuine decision-making authority—can radically increase how much energy and focus they bring to their jobs.
  35. Destructive organizational habits can be found within hundreds of industries and at thousands of firms. And almost always, they are the products of thoughtlessness, of leaders who avoid thinking about the culture and so let it develop without guidance.
  36. Companies aren’t families. They’re battlefields in a civil war.
  37. But as marketers and psychologists figured out long ago, if we start our shopping sprees by loading up on healthy stuff, we’re much more likely to buy Doritos, Oreos, and frozen pizza when we encounter them later on.
  38. If you dress a new something in old habits, it’s easier for the public to accept it.
  39. If you want to have Christ-like character, then you just develop the habits that Christ had.
  40. Movements don’t emerge because everyone suddenly decides to face the same direction at once. They rely on social patterns that begin as the habits of friendship, grow through the habits of communities, and are sustained by new habits that change participants’ sense of self.
  41. To pathological gamblers, near misses looked like wins. Their brains reacted almost the same way. But to a nonpathological gambler, a near miss was like a loss. People without a gambling problem were better at recognizing that a near miss means you still lose.
  42. “You want to know why sales have exploded? Every other scratch-off ticket is designed to make you feel like you almost won.” State lottery consultant
  43. To modify a habit, you must decide to change it. You must consciously accept the hard work of identifying the cues and rewards that drive the habits’ routines, and find alternatives.
  44. Once you understand that habits can change, you have the freedom—and the responsibility—to remake them. William James
  45. The will to believe is the most important ingredient in creating belief in change.
  46. If you believe you can change—if you make it a habit—the change becomes real. This is the real power of habit: the insight that your habits are what you choose them to be. Once that choice occurs—and becomes automatic—it’s not only real, it starts to seem inevitable, the thing, as James wrote, that bears “us irresistibly toward our destiny, whatever the latter may be.”
  47. The way we habitually think of our surroundings and ourselves create the worlds that each of us inhabit.
  48. People who successfully maintain weight loss typically eat breakfast every morning. They also weigh themselves each day.
  49. No matter how strong our willpower, we’re guaranteed to fall back into our old ways once in a while. But if we plan for those relapses—if we take steps to make sure those slips don’t become a habit—it’s easier to get back on track.
  50. Habits emerge when patterns are predictable—when our brains learn to crave a specific reward at a specific moment. When rewards defy prediction, when we fall off the wagon in ways that confound expectations, we take some of the power out of a pattern.
  51. It’s tempting to see those relapses as failures, but what’s really occurring are experiments.
  52. THE FRAMEWORK: • Identify the routine • Experiment with rewards • Isolate the cue • Have a plan
  53. Most cravings are like this: obvious in retrospect, but incredibly hard to see when we are under their sway.
  54. A habit is a formula our brain automatically follows: When I see CUE, I will do ROUTINE in order to get a REWARD.
Share your favorites in the comments section and pick up a copy of the book for yourself!