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The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

The book:
Charles Duhigg explains how habits are created and how they can be changed.

In the first section, the author explains what neuroscientists and social scientists have discovered about habits. Like every chapter, this one is full of real stories that illustrate the concepts.

Then, with a similar approach, Duhigg explains organizational habits and how they affect a company's culture and performance. In this section, he also tells how much big companies know about us (what you think is not even close) and how they use that information to change our buying habits.

In the third chapter, Duhigg focuses on social habits (that is, habits shared by large communities) using examples from the civil rights movement and a thriving church.

In the prologue, the author summarizes the process to change a habit.

Takeaways and Paths of Action: How to change a bad habit

Bad habits can be biting nails, eating the candy that you promised you wouldn't, not exercising, spending two hours on Facebook instead of working, spending 100 dollars on things you were not planning to buy... anything you would like to change but feel that you can not control.

Habits are composed of three phases. You experience a cue(1) that triggers a set of actions -or neurological cravings-(2) in order to get a reward(3). The strange thing about habits is that they can never be eliminated, only changed. And what you want to change is the set of actions -or routines-.

1. Identify the cue:

For one week, carry a notebook with you and take note of what happens right before you do the routine you're trying to avoid. Write down the location, time, your emotional state, other people around you, and the immediately preceding action.. Your cue could belong to any or many of these categories.

For example, I could not stop drinking coffee at work, so I started to keep track of my cues. On day one, I started craving coffee at 3pm, sitting on my desk, feeling bored, alone, after sending an email. As it turned out, my cue was feeling bored.

2. Identify the reward:

What "craving" does the cue trigger? Sometimes, it is not so obvious or can be misleading. For example, I could have craved the energy that the coffee provided, a break from work, socializing with the people at the coffee shop, the physical activity of walking, etc.

Once you feel the trigger, replace the routine with a new one that is more beneficial to you. Set a timer and, after 15 minutes, ask yourself if you still feel like you need the reward that your old routine provided. If that's the case, you're misinterpreting what the real reward is and must try a different routine with a different reward. Repeat this until you find the right one.

For example, I went for a walk to see if the exercise was what I actually wanted and then tried drinking water to see if I was just thirsty (the later worked!). A person that spends too much time on social media may want to talk to his/her friends, take a break, or watch something funny to make him/her feel happier.

3. Repeat:

Write down your new routine as precisely as you can. Social scientists that studied athletes and people doing in-home rehabilitation found that writing down what you need to do makes you 78% more likely to actually do it. 

Our brains like repetition, if you start repeating the new routine, it will eventually replace the old one.

In the same notebook you used to identify the cues, write down the date, draw a checkbox, and fill it with a checkmark only if you succeeded to replace the old routine that day.

I know...

It sounds hard and tedious, and it is. But, this book also talks about how willpower is like a muscle that you can exercise and grow (again, scientists have proven it). So, start small but start now!

Favourite quote:

"A habit is a choice that we deliberately make at some point and stop thinking about it but continue doing, often every day" - Charles Duhigg. 


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