The power of our habits
In his book, the American journalist Charles Duhigg comprehensively explores the topic of habits. His book is good for this diverse approach-habits are considered not only from the point of view of individual psychology.
The author introduces readers to the results of scientific experiments, tells about ways to overcome bad habits and the impact of habits on people’s lives, the work of companies and the emergence of social movements, as well as shares his personal experience.
The book is characterized by a popular style of investigative journalism — the author reveals the theme of his work with the help of “storytelling” – through interesting examples and stories. However, some critics of the book believe that Duhigg too keen on them.
The main idea of the book is that habits are strong, but they can still be changed if you understand the mechanism of their work.
Idea 1. We need habits to save energy for more important activities
Where do habits come from and why? It’s the way our brains work. He always tries to find ways to save energy. If we did everything with full awareness, we would spend a lot of resources on unimportant things and we would not have enough energy for important ones. Like an effective worker, the brain looks for ways to work with the least effort.
What is a habit? This is an unconscious repetitive action. Every repetitive action the brain tries to turn into a habit. As noted by Charles of Duhigg, about 40 percent of our daily activities we perform automatically.
But there are also downsides to this useful mechanism — automatism of reactions can prevent us from responding correctly to danger, or automatic behavior becomes something that hurts us-Smoking, overeating, procrastination.
One of the most interesting and important ideas of the book is about the mechanism of habit occurrence, which is described by the so-called habit loop ” signal-action-reward»:
Signal-starts automatic mode and tells the brain which habit to choose.
Habitual actions are what we do in response to a signal. And it can be not only physical actions, but also our thoughts or feelings.
The reward is what we get after performing actions. It determines whether to use this particular loop in the future.
Gradually, the “sign — habitual actions — reward” loop becomes more and more automatic, until a person begins to have a strong sense of foreboding and a passionate desire to receive a reward.
Thus, to create the right habit, you need to:
find a simple signal.
determine the reward for the action.
develop an unconscious longing.
Habits are incredibly stable. Surprisingly, people with serious brain injuries who can’t remember the last events of their lives and draw a plan of their home can easily navigate it and perform the usual actions.
This is because the mechanism of habit deployment is located in a special part of the brain-the basal ganglia. This part of the brain can function normally even if the other parts are damaged. Many bad habits never disappear completely, but simply “lie low” waiting for the right signs and rewards.
So habits are incredibly stable. But does this mean that they can’t be changed?
Idea 2. Changing a habit is not easy, but it is possible
The power of habit lies in the longing for reward, in anticipation. Craving for the reward reinforces the habit. The signal should trigger not only the usual action, but also a passionate desire for a reward.
If you are used to rewarding yourself with a piece of cake for a hard day’s work, then your brain will anticipate the reward even before it sees the object itself. Perhaps the thought of cake will warm you on the way home in a crowded transport.
But if you decide to lose weight and give up sweets, it also means that you will deprive yourself of the reward that you think you deserve. That’s why it’s so hard to fight with habits, because we have to deprive ourselves of pleasant things. But what to do? To remain a slave to habit forever?
Not at all — you just need to replace the habit. Make sure that what caused good emotions, but bad consequences, began to cause good emotions and good consequences, that is, that the habit became useful.
Usually people treat physical exercise as not the most pleasant necessity, but those who “got involved” have learned to find pleasure in them. For them, exercise is not just a necessity, but also a pleasant pastime that causes the body to produce endorphins.
Particularly strong habits form dependency-like reactions that lead to obsessive compulsions. But even these passionate desires do not have complete power over a person. There are certain mechanisms that will help a person avoid and ignore temptations and bad habits.
What are these mechanisms?
Charles of Duhigg describes “the Golden rule of changing habits»:
In the signal-action-reward loop, replace the old action with a new one, and leave the signal and reward the same. For example, the “stress” loop —
a piece of cake – feeling of satisfaction “should be replaced with” stress-ten squats-feeling of satisfaction (from achievement)”.
This General rule is widely used in the treatment of alcoholism, neurosis, obesity, and other personality-destroying habits.
It turns out that by decomposing the loop of a bad habit into components and replacing the old action with a new one, you can change the usual action in most cases that are not missed. However, sometimes one more important ingredient is needed to change particularly strong habits — faith. This does not mean that you need to believe in God, it is enough to believe that everything will change for the better.
In addition, it is important to record and celebrate your progress on the path to change, even if they are very small.
Idea 3. One of the most important factors for fixing and changing habits is willpower.
It looks like a muscle. It can be trained. And she gets tired
The author tells about a well-known experiment, called the “marshmallow Test”, in which four-year-olds who resisted the temptation to eat sweets longer than others, showed better results in adulthood, had fewer bad habits and were popular among their peers.
Few would argue that willpower is good. But usually willpower is perceived as something innate-either it is there or it is not. However, as further research has shown, willpower is a skill that can be mastered and developed.
In addition, some scientists believe that willpower is an exhausted resource. If during the day you strongly strained it, then by the evening you will have little “reserves” and, most likely, you will not withstand the temptation.
The author draws an analogy between willpower and muscle — both can be trained, but both get tired. But just as well as trained muscles help you lift more weight, so with the development of willpower you will be able to withstand more.
The point is to strengthen your willpower so that it becomes a habit, so that unexpected factors like angry customers and other stresses will not affect your willpower reserve as much. Interestingly, the strengthening of willpower in one aspect affects its strengthening in others.
Tools that support willpower are: a contingency plan, a sense of control in making independent decisions, and a diary where you need to write down your goals for the day and then analyze your progress.
Idea 4. We can’t take responsibility for our habits
The author quotes Aristotle: “Some thinkers claim that people are naturally good. Others believe that this happens out of habit, and others-on the instructions.” Aristotle himself believed that habits rule everything.
However, the author, based on what he has learned about habits, does not agree with this somewhat pessimistic view of the ancient philosopher on human nature. Charles Duhigg believes that we ourselves are able to recognize and change our habits.
However, this view has a downside. Just as freedom implies responsibility, so power over habits that we know about implies responsibility for their consequences.
The author believes that if we know about our habits, the possible negative consequences of our automatic actions can not be considered an excuse.
This is a very important idea, which leads to the conclusion that if we become aware of our addiction, then we have an obligation to change it.
Idea 5. Habits can be not only in people, but also in companies
The author talks about a popular idea that was presented in the early 1980s in the book “the Evolutionary theory of economic change”by Yale University professors Richard Nelson and Sidney winter. It consists in the fact that companies ‘ decisions are mainly determined by how they have acted in the past, rather than the result of a comprehensive analysis of available opportunities. Simply put, companies act out of habit.
Company habits-unwritten rules are certainly important for the normal functioning of a business. However, their main danger is their limitations, narrow thinking, which may cause the company to miss an important direction, which will lead to its collapse.
Therefore, company managers need to encourage employees to develop useful habits for the common cause. Of course, this is easier said than done.
However, there is one effective way. Good managers use crises, when most people are confused and disoriented, to promote ideas about changing habits.
However, it is not necessary to wait for a real crisis. A wise Manager will be able to create a sense of crisis and the need for change in order to encourage employees to change.
Idea 6. Social habits significantly influence social movements