The Power of Habit

It’s Sunday morning and I’m on my way out for brunch. During the week when I go to the office, I turn right, cross the street, and take the train uptown. However, brunch was a left turn and downtown. Why did I automatically turn right when I was supposed to turn left? I’m sure this has happened to many people – you usually go one way and you still go the same way even though you’re supposed to go the opposite direction. It’s called a habit. Today I am going to talk all about habits and The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. If you missed my last book review (more like book reflection), click here. Duhigg starts by talking about individuals’ habits, then moves on to talk about habits of organizations and social movements. I will focus on individuals’ habits in this post and how I incorporated ideas from his book into my life.

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When you first learn how to play the piano, it probably seemed impossible, but after practicing the same song for one hundred times, you can play it with your eyes closed. Our brains have the ability to operate on autopilot, which is why we can perform complex behaviors without thinking about it at all. It sounds pretty cool, but also scary.

Some of these habits are good, but some are really bad. Smoking, drinking, gambling, and overeating are just some of the bad habits out there that people put in their new year’s resolutions every year. Duhigg’s book explains the science of habit formation and change to help us better understand how to make good habits and how to change bad habits.

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One of the first concepts Duhigg explains is the habit loop. There are three components of a habit loop – cue, routine, and reward. The cue is anything that triggers the habit and can be an emotional state, a location, a time of day, and so on. For example, every day at 3pm, you go to the cafeteria to get a chocolate chip cookie. The routine is the behavior that you want to change or reinforce, like biting your nails or taking the stairs instead of the elevator. The reward is the reason your brain decides to do the two previous steps and it provides a positive reinforcement for the desired behavior. For example, a chocolate chip cookie, a break from work, or a feeling of escape from your worries. When you want to change your habits, you want to change the routine. The cue and reward stay the same.

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I am going to use myself as an example. When I’m bored, I shop (both online and in-store), and after that, I’m no longer bored because I start thinking about how to wear or use the things I just bought. I noticed that I often shop because I have nothing better to do, and since shopping is so easily accessible from my laptop, I often order things just to not feel bored anymore, like I accomplished something by placing an order. Most of the time after I place an order, I start thinking about when I can wear a certain outfit, how I can style it, and so on. Sometimes I am good and return the items, but sometimes I end up keeping items that are not practical. Basically, I end up spending more money than I should.

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I’ve been wanting to tackle my bad habit of online shopping for a while, but could never really do it. I would go two weeks without shopping and then go back to it in full force. It was because I never changed the routine and my brain was still craving the reward. When I got bored (the cue), it was very easy for me to fall back into the habit loop to get the reward. When I was reading this book, I nailed down the cue and reward but I wasn’t sure what my new routine would be. After the concept of habit loop really sunk in, I noticed that I replaced the routine without intentionally replacing it. What did I replace online shopping with? Blogging! It hit me about two weeks ago that I was spending my spare time blogging instead of online shopping. The cue was the same and I was getting the same reward but from a different routine. I obviously still online shop, but I do it a lot less often than before. Most of the time I set a goal for myself and if I reach it, I can buy something that is on my wishlist. : )

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You don’t always have to change habits, you can also reinforce your good habits. I have been drinking more water than before and want to continue doing that. I noticed that during my afternoon slump at work, I tend to look for snacks so that my mouth is moving and I’m not just typing and staring at a screen. At the beginning of this year, I started to drink water instead of snack during these afternoon slumps. My mouth was still moving and it also gave me an excuse to leave my desk – the bathroom. The reward, a distraction, stayed the same. I hope to continue doing this habit!

The key to getting rid of a bad habit is to nail down the cue and reward and change the routine. I only focused on habits of individuals in this post, but I recommend reading the entire book to learn about habits of organizations and social movements. The chapter about buying habits and the Civil Rights Movement were two of my favorites. After reading all his examples, you will really understand how habits form and change. It is scary that one concept, the habit loop, can explain so much about our lives! What is one habit that you want to change or reinforce? Leave it in the comments below! As always, thanks for stopping by : )

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44 Comments

  1. January 29, 2017 / 5:07 PM

    Hi Kimber!
    This is a Great post!!! I agree, our habits are so powerful and can be our greatest assets & our greatest enemies. I did a similar thing just yesterday. I was planning on turning left to go to the pet feed store, but I drove right past it out of habit.
    I can also relate to retail-therapy. It is so easy to shop in the comfort of your own home these days! I love the convenience, but it can also be dangerous because it is easy to spend a lot of money. This entire month, I have been visiting a site that finds pets to rescue and I found myself emailing a bunch of them. And that is how I have 3 cats and a dog :). I think I better start replacing this habit with something else like reading or meditation.
    I like your new habit of drinking water rather than reaching for snacks. I am going to try that this week. I hope you will have a great week and thanks again for writing this Great post!!!

    <3 Alana xoxoxo

    • January 29, 2017 / 11:01 PM

      Thank you for such a thoughtful comment! I hope you will read this book too 🙂

      • January 30, 2017 / 4:22 AM

        I will definitely read the book now! Xoxoxo

  2. whitneywhit13
    January 29, 2017 / 10:06 PM

    THIS POST IS SUPER!! I agree our habits are sooo powerful and they can be awesome tools in our lives or awful! thanks for sharing how we can take control!

    • January 31, 2017 / 11:22 AM

      Of course! I hope you read this book sometime : )

  3. January 30, 2017 / 4:37 AM

    Formed habits good and bad are deeply embedded. Sometimes I have to force myself to do things differently.

  4. January 30, 2017 / 9:09 AM

    I love your article and an honest example of you shopping habit:) I think it’s always good to think about replacing bad habits with harmless ones. In the beginning, it’s gonna be difficult and stressing but it’s definitely worth trying:)

  5. January 30, 2017 / 9:52 AM

    The habit loop makes complete sense and is something that definitely describes my addiction to spending money like you. We can always take control x

  6. January 30, 2017 / 10:05 AM

    This is a great discussion, not only on the book you read, but on how you we’re able to apply it and use to adjust things in your own life. And it’s great you’ve started implementing habit replacement in your life, to such as blogging instead of shopping and drinking water instead of snacking. It little things like those that add up to a life … And it’s amazing how much impact the little things can have on us.

  7. January 30, 2017 / 10:19 AM

    Brilliant read, very thought provoking. Don’t think we realise how powerful our habits are in influencing ourselves and our lives. It’s really made me think about my own habitual behaviour so thank you!

  8. MaryAnne
    January 30, 2017 / 12:11 PM

    That is absolutely true! since I am working I create a rutine and everything gets easier than ever!

  9. January 30, 2017 / 1:04 PM

    Hi awesome post. Habits can make you or destroy you. Thanks for an inspirational post

  10. January 30, 2017 / 1:18 PM

    LOve this! I’ve tried to make so many things a habit (gym, walking outdoors, pushups, stretching etc) because I realize that those too can come a simple daily habits I don’t even think about while doing it (like teeth brushing). It is very powerful to realize that.

  11. citygirlrell
    January 30, 2017 / 5:00 PM

    This is one of my favourite books! I love it! I think I might have to take it out and re-ready because it drops some really valuable info!

    Foirell | http://www.citygirlrell.com

  12. January 30, 2017 / 5:17 PM

    I have noticed that once I set a routine and get in good habits I’m a lot happier.

  13. mjsorrels
    January 30, 2017 / 5:23 PM

    It’s always forming he habit that the hardest part. I’ll have to check out the book!

  14. January 30, 2017 / 5:38 PM

    Great post Kimberly. I find the mind so fascinating and this perspective on habits makes a lot of sense. Also thank for reminding me that I need water versus that 8th cup of coffee right now. 😊Thanks for sharing.

  15. January 30, 2017 / 7:03 PM

    I REALLY need to read this book. Sometimes I am terrible with keeping on track, but this book sounds like it can help me with that.

  16. January 30, 2017 / 7:35 PM

    Really a great post. I will look this book up. Thanks for sharing.

  17. January 30, 2017 / 10:03 PM

    I am working on many different moving parts this year. I am focusing on getting a 45 minute workout in 3-5 times a week, reading 7 books this year (last year was like 1), doing a homeschool preschool for my 4 and 2 year old, and working through the entire Bible through the year as well. What I’ve found is using a calendar to block out my day, I’m able to give myself permission to get everything done. However, I know that I’m having to give up because in order to get everything done, I will need to get up earlier too! Looks like a great book and I’ll have to put it on my reading list next year if I haven’t developed my habits fully yet.

  18. January 30, 2017 / 10:37 PM

    Love! It’s like the habit of creating the habit itself! What a great post about the book!

  19. January 30, 2017 / 10:55 PM

    This a exactly right. I really learned this lesson from sports as a kid, but it really applies to everything from health to romance to finance. Great book.

  20. January 31, 2017 / 12:38 AM

    This sounds like a great book. I definitely have some bad habits I need to kick. Maybe I should give it a try.

  21. Elizabeth O.
    January 31, 2017 / 12:12 PM

    It sounds like a good book to read if you’re having a difficult time removing the bad habits that you’ve grown accustomed to! I think this is something that’s worth reading and it would be a nice change from the books that I’ve been reading lately.

  22. Harry Lemont
    January 31, 2017 / 12:22 PM

    Your posts are always some of my favorites! As always… I love the pictures!!!!!!!!

  23. January 31, 2017 / 12:46 PM

    It is always good to create habits in order to get things done. I always work better with a routine.

  24. Robin Rue
    January 31, 2017 / 2:43 PM

    This post is so great. I do some things just out of habit or even boredom and have no idea where those things lead me. I need to take a long look at some things and make changes.

  25. kiyshia
    January 31, 2017 / 3:02 PM

    Wow! Thanks for sharing this. Its amazing how our brain works. This post Its really helped me reflect on some bad habits that I do when I’m bored. It might sound really strange, but when I’m bored I do a lot of procrastinating and day dreaming! but since I’ve taken up blogging, I’ve replaced that with procrastinating – and this post has just somehow rewarded my good behaviour (made my day basically). And yes, the story of taking the wrong turns oh I’m guilty as charged.

  26. January 31, 2017 / 7:26 PM

    This is absolutely a great ideas! I enjoy reading this and so glad that you share this with us and thank you making me inspired

  27. February 1, 2017 / 11:18 AM

    Good habits are always nice to have and it’s better if you can improve them too. Habits don’t always have to be changed especially if they benefit you as a person.

  28. February 1, 2017 / 11:52 AM

    Ahhh such an insightful post Kimberly! 🙂 Really enjoyed it. Sounds like a book I would read so that’s definitely going on my wishlist 😉

  29. February 1, 2017 / 4:42 PM

    habits are so hard to break. i stopped pop for a few years and then i hate myself for starting again.

  30. February 1, 2017 / 11:28 PM

    Habits do die hard. Habits are bits of information that have got programmed in the mind. A person then becomes like a robot and is controlled by the habit. Hence I feel one needs to breakaway from all habits including good ones, once in a while.

  31. February 3, 2017 / 2:10 PM

    I agree !!! when I am bored i go do shopping or I bake at home it is the only way to break the routine :D..your post is awesome

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