In Power of Habit, the author examines why some people and companies struggle to change, despite years of trying, while other seem to remake themselves overnight. The book is divided into three sections, namely Individual, Company and Societies. The author discusses how habits are formed in all three areas with some compelling evidences. Personally, I have always disliked self-help books due to the sole reason of them being boring. But surprisingly, Charles Duhigg has found an interesting way to present boring tips through this best-seller.

Part A – Individual Habits

Ch- 1 The Habit Loop:

If we picture our brain as an onion, composed of layers of cells, then the outside layers – those closest to the scalp – are generally the most recent additions from an evolutionary perspective. Deep inside is where automatic behaviours occur. One such part of the brain – basal ganglia, controls habit.

The process in which the brain converts a sequence of actions into the an automatic routine is known as chunking and it is at the root of habit formation. Examples of behavioral chunks – You automatically putting toothpaste on toothbrush before putting it into your mouth. Habits emerge because the brain in constantly looking for ways to save effort.

The Habit process within our brain is a three-step loop. First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go to automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is 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.

Ch-2 The Craving Brain (How to create new habits)

Example of Pepsodent – How Hopkins made Americans develop the habit of brushing in the morning(a way to advertise Pepsodent). How ever complex the whole idea seems, everything burns down to three things – cue, routine, reward. He learned the right human psychology which was grounded in two basic rules – Find a simple and obvious cue and second clearly define the rewards.

Prof Wolfram Schultz conducted a few experiments on monkeys to know the inner workings of the brain during the habit loop. He found out that once the habit has been created, the monkeys craved of the rewards, and when they didn’t arrive, they began to go mad. Therefore, habits are very powerful: they create neurological cravings. Most of the time, these cravings emerge so gradually that we are not really aware they exist. But as we associate cues with certain reward, a subconscious craving emerges in our brains that start the habit loop spinning.

The way new habits are created – by putting together a cue, a routine and a reward, and then cultivating a craving that drives the loop. The cue in addition to triggering a routine must also trigger a craving for the reward to come.

Consumers need some kind of signal that a product is working. For instance, all toothpaste have a cool tinge irrespective of the flavour. This cool tinge does not help in cleaning our teeth, rather they leave behind a cool effect which indirectly makes us believe that the tooth-paste has done its job.

Ch-3 The Golden Rule of Habit Change

Example of Tony Dungy and his rugby team – Tony Dungy’s coaching philosophy was that the key to winning was changing player’s habits. He wanted players to stop making so many decisions during the game. He wanted them to react automatically, habitually. Dungy only wanted to target the middle step – routine. It is easier to convince someone to adopt a new behaviour if there was something familiar at the beginning and end.To change a habit, you must keep the old cue and reward and but change the routine.

Example of Alcoholics Anonymous – AA forces addicts to identify the cues and the rewards that encourage their alcoholic habits, and then helps them find new behaviours.

To change an old habit, you have to target the old craving. You have to keep the same cues and rewards as before and feed the craving by inserting a new routine.

However even if you give people better habits, it doesn’t repair why they started drinking in the first place. Eventually, they will have a bad day and no new routine is going to make everything seem okay. What can make a difference is believing that they can cope with that stress without alcohol. People might be skeptical about their ability to change if they are by themselves, but a group will convince them to suspend disbelief. A community creates belief.

Habits are most malleable when the Golden Rule of Habit is applied.

PART B – Organisations

Ch -4 Keystone Habits

Example – Alcoa and its CEO Paul O’Neill – O’Neill believed that some habits have the power to start a chain reaction, changing other habits as they move through an organisation. Some habits matter more than others in remaking businesses and lives. These are called “Key Stone Habits”.

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. Individuals have habits and organisations have routines.

To bring Alcoa back on track, O’Neill figured out his top priority would be something that everyone – unions and executives- could agree was important. He needed a focus that would bring people together, that would give him leverage to change how people worked and communicated. He chose Safety! The key to protecting Alcoa employees was understanding why injuries happened. And to understand the why you had to study how the process was going wrong. To understand how things were going wrong, you had to bring in people who could educate about quality control and safety. In short, to protect the workers, Alcoa needed to become the best, most streamlined aluminum company on earth.

If you focus on changing or cultivating keystone habits, you can cause widespread shifts. Keystone habits offer what is known within academic literature as “small wins”. They help other habits to flourish by creating new structures, and they establish cultures where change becomes contagious.

Example – Michael Phelps – Phelps’s coach, Bowman believed that key to victory was creating right routines. All he needed to do was target few specific habits that had nothing to do with swimming and everything to do with creating right mindset. Bowman would tell Phelps to go home and “watch the video-tape, which was a mental visualization of a perfect race, before he goes to sleep and when he wakes up”.

Once a small win has been accomplished, forces are set in motion that favour another small win. Small wins fuel transformative changes by leveraging tiny advantages into patterns that convince people that bigger achievements are within reach.

Ch – 5 When Willpower becomes Automatic

Example – Starbucks – Starbucks teach their employees via classroom sessions the basic methods and ways to deal with a Starbucks customer. At the core of the education is an intense focus on an all important habit : willpower. Willpower is the single most important keystone habit for individual success. The best way to strengthen willpower is to make it into a habit.

Willpower isn’t just a skill. It is a muscle, and it gets tired as it works harder. If you want to do something that requires willpower, you have to conserve your willpower till that time of the day. As people strengthen their willpower in one part of their lives, that strength spilled over into other things and touched everything. Good habits spill over into other parts of lives.

The Starbucks LATTE method – We Listen to the customer, Acknowledge their complaint, Take action by solving the problem, Thank them and then Explain why the problem occurred. 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.

Parents should ask such questions to help their children learn how to set goals – “How are you going to study tonight”, “What are you going to do tomorrow”, “How do you know you are ready for the tests?”

When people are asked to do something that takes self-control, if they think they are doing it for personal reasons – if they feel it’s like a choice or something that they enjoy because it helps someone else – it’s much less taxing. If they feel like they have no autonomy, their willpower muscles get tired much faster.

Simply giving employees a sense of agency – a feeling that they are in control, that they have actual decision-making control – can radically increase how much energy and focus they bring to their jobs.

Ch – 6 Power of Crisis

There are no organisations without institutional habits. There are only places where they are deliberately designed, and places where they are created without forethought. Sometimes in the heat of a crisis, the right habits emerge.

Nelson and Winter’s theories – Much of firm behavior is best understood as a reflection of general habits and strategic orientations coming from the firm’s past rather than the result of a detailed survey of remote twigs of decision tree. Firms are guided by long-held organisational habits, patterns that often emerge from thousand of employees’ independent decisions. The organizational habits or routines provide hundred of unwritten rules that companies need to operate. They allow workers to experiment with new ideas without having to ask for permission at every step.

The most important benefits of routines is that they create truces between potential warring groups or individuals within an organisation. Organisational routines provide a basic promise – if everyone follows the established patterns and abide by the truce, then rivalries won’t destroy the company, the profits will roll in and eventually everyone will get rich. For an organisation to work, leaders must cultivate habits that both create a real and balanced peace and, paradoxically make it absolutely clear who’s in charge.

Good leaders seize crises to remake organisational habits. A company with dysfunctional habits can’t turn around simply because a leader orders it. Rather, wise executives seek out moments of crisis- or create the perception of crisis- and cultivate the sense that something must change.

Ch 7- How Target knows what you want before you do

Consumers act like creatures of habit, automatically repeating past behaviors with little regard to current goals. Yet each person’s habits are different. People’s buying habits are more likely to change when they go through a major life event. And the biggest change is having a baby.

There is evidence that a preference for that thing that sound familiar is a product of our neurology. Listening habits allow us to unconsciously separate important noises from those that can’t be ignored. Radio listeners didn’t want to make a conscious decision each time they were presented with a new song. Instead, their brains wanted to follow a habit.

Listeners are happy to sit through a song they might dislike as long as it seems something they have heard before. Pregnant women are happy to use coupons they receive in the mail unless those coupons make it obvious that Target is spying on them.

“By dressing something new in old clothes, and making the unfamiliar seem familiar” – the golden rule for making your product viral. How to do this? Sandwich theorem – Sandwich the unfamiliar between the familiar. If you dress something new in old habits, it is easier for the public to accept it.

Part – C Habits of Societies

Social habits are what fill streets who may not know one another, who are marching for different reasons, but who are all moving in the same direction. A movement starts because of Social habits of friendship and strong ties between close acquaintances. It grows because of habits of community, and the weak ties that hold neighbourhoods and clans together. And it endures because leaders give participants new habits that create a fresh sense of identity and a feeling of ownership.

For an idea to grow beyond a community, it must become self-propelling. And the surest way to achieve that is to give people new habits that help them figure out where to go on their own. The will to believe is the most important ingredient in creating belief in change. And that one of the most important methods for creating that belief was habits.

The FRAMEWORK to create or change Habits:

  1. Identify the routine
  2. Experiment with rewards
  3. Isolate the cue
  4. Have a plan