Book Review: The Power for Habit (Part 1)

I've been fascinated with pop psychology since high school. Amazing things happen when the power of psychology is released from the research lab and the counselor's couch.

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg is a great example of what happens when psychology touches down in the real world.

Duhigg plows through a mountain of research to describe what he calls "The Habit Loop."

The Habit Loop starts with a cue (a sound, a smell, a time of day ... anything that will kick the loop into motion). The cue prompts a routine (go get a cookie, smoke a cigarette, write a blog post ... anything that has been associated with the cue and, more importantly, what comes next). At the end of the routine there's a reward (that clean-house smell, the high-five from Mailchimp, the flood of endorphins ... anything pleasurable that follows the routine and can be associated with it).

Cue --- Routine --- Reward

That's The Habit Loop.

Now, by itself, it's not a loop. You need something to connect "Reward" back to "Cue." That's actually where the magic happens, though it doesn't get a ton of attention in the book. If I see McDonalds on my drive to work this morning (cue) and stop for breakfast (routine), I'll get a reward (McMuffin + Frappe). But if I want to develop a McDonalds habit, I'll need something to cultivate a craving.

The world is full of pleasurable experiences. We receive cues signaling the availability of pleasure all of the time. And we turn most of those cues down. We don't text and drive, steal from people or skip work. Even though the pleasures of connection, acquisition and leisure are enormous, they're outweighed by wisdom, moral sense and delayed gratification ... at least, most of the time.

One of my big take-aways from this book was to see the immense power that cravings have in our lives and organizations.

One exercise Duhigg recommends is breaking down some of your bad habits into these four parts: craving, cue, routine, and reward. Most of us are aware of the routine of our bad habits. Some of us pay attention to the cue and reward. But the craving piece is where it really gets interesting.

In my next post, I'll take a look at one of my bad habits, break it down according to the book and show how Duhigg recommends habit transformation.

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