When you are driving home after a long day and don’t feel like cooking dinner, it makes sense to stop by a McDonalds – it’s cheap and tastes good. One meal of processed food can’t be that bad, right? But habits emerge without our permission. Studies indicate that people usually don’t intend to eat fast food on a regular basis. What happens is that a once in a month pattern slowly becomes once in a week, and then twice a week. A habit is just a choice that we deliberately made at some point (how to eat, how often to drink, when to go for a jog, etc), and then stop thinking about, but continue doing, often every day. Charles Duhigg in his groundbreaking book The Power of Habit brings to life a whole new understanding of the concept of habit, human nature, and its potential for transformation. Here are the three takeaways from the book –
Habits work in 3-step loops: cue, routine, reward.
Habits are automatic cue-action-reward loops formed by our brains after recognizing certain patterns. The brain registers a cue which triggers an action, and this action ends with a reward. The loop is sustained through cravings which is the anticipation of the reward by our brain. However, these cravings can also be dangerous, sometimes leading to addiction.
The more often you reinforce a habit, the more embedded in your brain it gets. In case of the coffee, you might crave it the second you sit down at your kitchen table, and when you can’t have it that day, because the machine broke, you’ll probably get very grumpy and buy one later at work. The trick to changing a habit then is to switch the routine and leave everything else intact. Duhigg calls this the golden rule.
If you’re trying to get off caffeine, the tweak is incredibly simple: switch to decaf. You’ll still have the entire experience from A to Z, but instead of pressing a button you’re now pouring hot water over decaf coffee powder, and voilà, you won’t miss caffeine for even a single day.
Willpower is the most important habit and Duhigg says that you can strengthen it over time with 3 things:
Do something that requires a lot of discipline.
Plan ahead for worst-case scenarios – Even just thinking about your boss yelling at you before it ever happens will help you not lose your cool when it does.