Have you ever wondered why and how certain habits occur ?
Well, I recently read a book called The Power Of Habit by Charles Duhigg that explores the actual science behind habit creation and even some habits linked to businesses.
In this book, Charles takes us through heaps of fascinating scientific discoveries that explain habits.
For example, in the first chapter he writes about an old man named Eugene Pauly who lost his memory and couldn’t even remember what day of the week it was, or identify his grandchildren, etc. Eugene’s wife Beverly took him for walks every day to make sure he remained fit and healthy until one day, all of a sudden Eugene heads out the door all by himself and takes a walk around. Very surprisingly enough, he returns in exactly 15 minutes back to his house. He starts doing this every single day. However, When the doctors ask him to roughly draw a map of his estate and where his house was, he couldn’t recall a thing! As he lost his memory.
The conclusion scientists and MIT researchers found out was that towards the centre of our skull, there is a lump of tissue called the basal ganglia. And this tissue stores habits even if the rest of our brain doesn’t work which explains why Eugene started to walk every single day all by himself (it became a habit) and get home on time but couldn’t exactly figure out where his house was ( didn’t have the memory). Habits form and operate entirely separate from the part of our brain responsible for memory.
Charles also talks about “chunking”. Our brain converts a sequence of actions into an automatic routine (like Eugene walked everyday until it eventually became a daily habit) and that’s the root of how habits form. There are hundreds and hundreds of behavioural chunks that we rely on every single day. For example, putting toothpaste on our brush before sticking it in our mouth or wearing clothes that could require several separate actions but we do it everyday without thinking twice.
Putting it altogether, there is something known as the Habit Loop which consists of 3 steps:
Cue : a trigger that tells our brain to go into automatic mode and what habit to use
Routine : can be physical, mental, or emotional
Reward : helps the brain know if the particular loop is worth remembering for the future
Eventually this loop becomes more and more automatic. The cue and reward intertwine and a habit is born. It is easier to visualise the loop. Take for example when a phone buzzes with a new email or message, the brain starts anticipating the momentary distraction that opening an email provides.
This is what a habit loop looks like .
Another chapter of the book is called “The Craving Brain – how to create new habits”
It might seem surprising to some of you but in early 20th America, hardly anyone brushed their teeth.
They were left so unhygienic and so gross! Not until Claude Hopkins, a marketing genius was convinced by his friend to popularise toothpaste and turn it into a daily habit. Claude Hopkins was known for turning unknown products into daily used household items. He also worked in advertising Quaker Oats. (The cereal)
He was able to convince America that it provided 24 hour energy – but only if you ate a bowl every day
(So eventually people made it a habit to eat quaker oats cereal each morning to gain energy for the day !)
Moving on… Claude Hopkins thought of a cue to turn toothpaste into a national habit. His toothpaste was Pepsodent. Unlike other pastes at the time, Pepsodent contained citric acids and mint oils. Not only these sounded fresh but it made people have this cool tingling sensation on the tongue and gums. Very interestingly enough, sales of Pepsodent exploded. Pepsodent created a craving.
When people forgot to brush their teeth with Pepsodent, they missed out on the tingling effect. If it wasn’t there, their teeth didn’t feel clean. Once people craved that cool tingling sensation, seeing the result of clean shiny teeth, brushing became a habit. And, within a decade, toothpaste usage expanded from 7% of the population to 65%. So actually people started brushing with Pepsodent mainly because of the tingling effect that ensured them their teeth would be clean. So Marketing genius Claude Hopkins’ marketing plan did work and created brushing into a daily habit. Now brushing has turned into a worldwide habit and after Hopkins, many toothpaste companies began using citric oils and minty freshness for the tingle effect.
Cravings are what drive habits, and figuring out how to spark a craving makes creating a new habit easier, like the crave for the tingle creates a habit of brushing.
Hopkins’ habit loop for Pepsodent…
How brushing became a habit
Then there is a chapter called the ” Golden rule of habit change ”
Tony Dungy was a footballer who totally changed the game of American football for the first time.
He was the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers – initially one of the worst teams in the national football league! But he then came up with a new coaching approach.
Instead of players overthinking and spending so much time on their next move, Tony did everything to get his team to stop thinking and react quickly based on habit instead. Tony knew that habits can’t usually be overcome but instead could be changed if a new routine is inserted to the habit loop with the same cue and same reward. He trained his team to automatically link cues they already knew to different on-field routines, ones that involved less complexity, fewer choices, lesser thinking and rather more subconscious reactions. Fortunately, Tony’s approach lead to the Buccaneers being championship contenders and he saved his team successfully.
The most successful habit change is the 12 step program of Alcoholics Anonymous.
The first key is that AA inserts a new routine into the same cue and reward by identifying what need the alcohol is fulfilling and providing a similar type of relief through the AA group. If you think about it people drink alcohol for anxiety relief, relaxation, escape, or to get a stress free mind. But AA forced you to create new routines for what to do each night instead of drinking harmful alcohol each night.
Meaning, creating a new routine with the same cue and reward. The cue would be feeling stressed out for example, the reward would be having a stress free mind, resulting in a routine of drinking every night. AA kept the same cue and reward and added a new routine- which was that you could relax and talk through your anxieties at the meetings, (talk to people which are equivalent to drinking excess or figure out a different routine that will satisfy the cravings filled by drinking alcohol).
However, drinking or smoking is a terrible addiction spread worldwide, so this alone wasn’t sufficient.
There is another element to prevent such things and that is belief. Belief is a thing and skill that makes habit change possible. And if a community or a group of people believe that it’s wrong, habits could possibly change, despite the fact that even today it is extremely difficult.
The conclusion Charles tried to explain was, if we keep the same cue and reward, a new routine can be inserted to the habit loop, just like Tony did with his football team and AA did with alcohol addicted people. Also, we know that change can happen with bad habits, smokers can quit smoking, drinkers can quit drinking access but what is needed is belief that it can happen and that too by a community or a group of people.
Another example from me, when teenagers check their phones every now and then and eventually, it turns into a habit 🙄
Cue: a phone ting (snapchat, Instagram ;-))
Resulting in a routine : Checking phone every now and then
You can change this bad habit. When your phone chimes, instantly keep it somewhere else, or somewhere where it’s unreachable, you wont get the craving anymore.
Not that you can’t check your phone at all, of course you should, just don’t create it into a habit.
Same goes to things like biting nails (not to mention I actually do it quite often !). In Fact, there was a girl named Mandy. Her biting habit got so severe that her fingers actually used to bleed but she still did it because it gave her satisfaction. She then met a phycologist who studied habit reversal training. She managed to solve Mandy’s issue. Whenever Mandy felt the urge or the crave to bite her nails, the phycologist asked her to put her hand in the pocket, making it impossible to put her fingers in her mouth. As for the reward, she could decide what she wanted, for example a manicure!
The cue and reward stayed the same, it’s the bad behaviour that changed .
Then there is a chapter called “Starbucks and the habit of success- when willpower becomes automatic”
Starbucks is a coffee shop that operates above 27,000 locations worldwide! So many people love Starbucks across the world but do you know the actual history behind it?
It is scientifically proven that willpower is an essential ingredient for success.
This has been proven through a number of experiments, with one, including the marshmallow experiment which involved children and marshmallows. Kids with less will power to eat the marshmallow later didn’t achieve good grades or SAT scores, and kids with a high will power achieved better grades later on, crazy to believe but it’s a proven fact.. In Fact there is a book based on this experiment called ” The Marshmallow Test”.
Anyway, willpower is known to help you in other areas of life and read on about how Starbucks’ success was achieved:
Starbucks’ business model was based on giving fantastic customer service. The solution, Starbucks discovered, was to turn self discipline and willpower into an organisational habit. The managers noticed that what was happening was that employees and workers were failing when they reached against inflection points ( like facing angry customers ). What they realised was they needed habits to muster self discipline. The workers needed clear instructions about how to deal with the inflection points: a routine for employees to follow when their willpower muscles went limp. Starbucks gave their employees willpower habit loops and explained how to react to angry customers.
Then Starbucks came up with the LATTE method! To listen to the customer, acknowledge their complaint, take action by solving the issue, thank them, and explain why the problem occurred. They gave them many other learnings as well as a lot of training classes to build self regulation and willpower. Throughout the classes they were given plans to overcome inflection points, they then practiced the plans, until it became an automatic habit.
That is how willpower became a habit. By choosing a certain behaviour ahead of time, and then following that routine when an inflection point arrives. When workers studied the latte method, they decided ahead of time how to react to a cue – (a painful muscle or angry customer). When the cue arrived, a routine occurred, with a reward of happy customers. .
The employee training and customer service Starbucks gave the workers made Starbucks into one of the most successful companies in the world
Starbucks also gave their workers authority and self control.
It was also proven that it gave them a lot of self control and worked more effectively with fewer mistakes. They brought self discipline into their job.
“When people just follow orders willpower just becomes more difficult”
Starbucks’ excellent training led to workers having will power and self regulation, leading to customer satisfaction, and Starbucks successfully hit their goal.
There is also a chapter that goes into the detail of how Target achieved success. ( the second largest upscale discount retailer that provides high quality, on – trend merchandise )
Basically Target collects individualised shopping data for each customer using credit, shopping cards, etc, . They notice your age, ethnicity, location, status and so on.
Target looks at individual quirks of each customer using data or simply identifies each customer’s buying habits. A huge thing that adds to the marketing success in target is if a customer goes through a major event in his or her life, for example a child is going to be born. Target’s staff notices that the buying habits of the customer changes. So these type of companies are really good at identifying what goes on with the customer’s life!
Once they notice the buying habit changes, they send coupons or emails with discount for example with the specific items they need. It didn’t take long though, for target to realise that people would mind if they received coupons filled with baby products, sometimes even before they’ve told their families that they are pregnant and would surely think that target stalks them!
So now, when target predicts a customer is pregnant, for example ( there are many more examples ), they will send coupons or emails for baby products intentionally sandwiched between unrelated ads for beer, jewellery or other products too.
I think that’s pretty smart 🙂
So Charles gives us a formula to follow, now that we know our habits and can shape them accordingly in our will after reading this book :
1. Identify the routine
2. Experiment with rewards
3. Isolate the cue
4. Have a plan
“Once you understand how a particular habit operates, once you diagnose the cue, the routine and the reward, you gain power over it.”
Why should you read this book ? You can certainly understand and identify your own personal habits, and think about wether you want to reshape or build onto them 🙂
– Saania Saxena