I just started reading The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. I don’t usually read a lot of nonfiction, but I was in a fiction rut so I figured why not change it up! The book explores why habits exist and how they can be changed, and includes three sections: The Habits of Individuals, The Habits of Successful Organizations, and The Habits of Societies. I’m currently in the Individuals part, which explains the “habit 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. Over time, this loop–cue, routine reward; cue, routine, reward–becomes more and more automatic (19).
Something I find really interesting is the brain’s role in habit formation and automaticity. Duhigg explains:
When a habit emerges, the brain stops fully participating in decision making. It stops working so hard, or diverts focus to other tasks. So unless you deliberately fight a habit–unless you find new routines–the pattern will unfold automatically [...] Without habit loops, our brains would shut down, overwhelmed by the minutiae of daily life. People whose basal ganglia are damaged by injury or disease often become mentally paralyzed. They have trouble performing basic activities, such as opening a door or deciding what to eat. They lose the ability to ignore insignificant details [...] Without our basal ganglia, we lose access to the hundreds of habits we rely on every day (20, 21).
While the habit loop and the role of the brain seem to make perfect sense, it’s not something I’ve really thought about. It made me wonder what my own habits are. We have some habits that are just part of life and don’t need to be changed, like the order in which we wash our hair, face, etc. in the shower, which shoe we put on first, and so on. But what about the habits that may be preventing us from being healthy and living life to the fullest? Duhigg recommends starting with just one habit. What is the cue, the routine, the reward? Once you’re able to target those things and replace the cues (which is coming up later in the book), other related negative habits may disappear.
Charles Duhigg Video: