Aristotle, the ancient Greek philosopher and scientist, said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” William James, the well-known psychologist who made some of the earliest studies on habits in the 19th century, referred to life as a bundle of habits.
So, it’s true that our habits control a large part of our life. And it would be correct to say that if we want to change our life, we must change our habits.
We humans didn’t know much about habits until the 1990s, when scientists researched them and found how they are formed and what they are made up of.
The book The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg explains everything you need to know about habits, including how habits work, what they are made up of, and how to change them. Duhigg wrote the book with the help of hundreds of academic studies, interviews with many scientists, and researches conducted on many companies.
In the following sections, I have shared the core lesson from the book The Power of Habit that will help you understand how habits work and how you can change them.
The Power of Habit: Summary
The core lesson
Duhigg says that our mind makes habits to save efforts. When we perform an action that has become a habit, we do it without thinking because our mind goes to the auto-pilot mode.
For example, you brush your teeth every day in the morning, but you do it all without using your mind. I mean, you hold the brush, put the toothpaste, and then brush your teeth, and do all these without thinking. This is because you have done it so many times that it has become a strong habit.
All the habits are made up of four elements- cue, craving, routine, and reward. At first, there is a cue, which is what triggers our habit. A cue can be a particular time, emotion, or place, which makes us crave rewards.
So, the next thing is craving. Craving is the motivational force behind every habit. To satisfy the craving, we do the routine, which is the actual action we take in the habit. This routine helps us get the rewards. The reward is the end result of a habit that satisfies our craving.
In simple terms: a cue makes us crave, and craving motivates us to follow the routine; the routine helps us to get the reward, the reward satisfies our craving.
For example, when you brush your teeth, the cue is the time after you wake up. So, this cue generates the craving for freshness that you feel after brushing. Now to satisfy this craving, you do the routine that is brushing the teeth. And after brushing, you get the reward, which is freshness, and you successfully satisfy your craving.
Another example is the habit of using social media. When you get bored at work, you start to crave distraction which will end your boredom. Getting bored is the cue, and the desire to finish boredom is the craving. This craving motivates you to grab your phone and open social media, and scroll through it. Using social media is the routine, which finishes your boredom. Elimination of boredom is the reward that satisfies your craving.
Now, whenever you get bored the next time while attending a lecture or sitting in a toilet, your will automatically grab your phone and open social media. With time, this becomes a strong habit, and you do it without thinking.
How to make new habits
Duhigg says that once you know how habits work, you would be aware of your habits and be more likely to change a bad one. After understanding the above concept, I felt an unusual sense of confidence because I realized that I can change my habits and that I am in control of my life. Now, to help you understand how to make new habits, I will share how I made a habit of reading.
So, I used to read before, but reading was not a habit. To make it a habit, the first thing I did was define the cue, which would trigger the habit. I thought it would be best to read after I drink tea in the morning. Now, I thought about the reward of reading, that is why I should read. I realized that reading books gives a sense of satisfaction because I learn new things.
Now when I finished drinking tea, I tried to imitate a feeling of interest for reading, that is, craving the sense of satisfaction that will come after I read. Then I read for 30 minutes, and after reading, I tried to feel the satisfaction, satisfaction of learning new things and growing.
And I did it every day; after drinking tea in the morning (cue), I faked the craving for satisfaction that will come after reading (craving), then I read (routine) and felt satisfied (reward). After doing it for, probably for one month, I didn’t have to fake the interest; it became natural. Now I automatically grab a book after drinking tea and read for more than 30 minutes.
How to change a habit
We already have many habits that are difficult to avoid, even when we know how harmful they are. Duhigg says that you cannot completely stop a habit; you can only change them. You can change a habit by changing the routine and keeping everything- cue, craving, and reward- the same.
For example, if you want to change the habit of using social media, you have to do the following. First, you have to identify the reward- why do you want to use social media? This can be anything like eliminating boredom or relieve yourself. Then you need to identify the cue- what is making you crave and triggering the habit. It can be anything like a particular time of the day, or when you get bored, or when you are anxious.
Let’s say that the cue is a feeling when you get bored during work. And the reward is eliminating boredom. Then, in this case, you may use a different routine that serves you the same reward. So, you can listen to an audiobook or podcast on your phone, or you can read a fiction novel, or you can play chess on your phone. All of these are productive habits that can eliminate your boredom.
These are just examples, and may not work for everyone, so you may experiment and find what removes your boredom easily and is productive as well, and then you may do it instead of using the phone.
If you find it difficult to follow the new routine, then you can write it down on paper. In this case, you may write like- “Whenever I will get bored, I will listen to an audiobook on my phone.” Now, whenever you are bored, you will develop a craving for eliminating boredom and grab your phone and listen to an audiobook, which will satisfy your craving and be a productive habit.
Similarly, if you have a habit of eating junk foods, then you may identify the reward and the cue. Let’s say the reward is the pleasure of satisfying hunger, and the cue is the feeling of hunger. Now you can insert another healthy routine like eating fruits or drinking fresh fruit juice instead of junk foods.
If you have a habit of smoking, the cue can be the feeling of distress. So whenever you feel stressed, you smoke to get the reward which can be the feeling of relief. If you have this habit and want to change it, you can replace smoking with other activities that make you stress-free, like working on your hobby or dancing in a closed room. Replacing smoking with another activity that gives the same reward is an effective method, and the National Institute of Health of the US also suggests the same.
This may not be that easy as it sounds. The stronger your habit, the difficult it will be to replace with a new one. But if you have a desire to change and keep doing it, the new routine will be your new habit. So, that was the core lesson of The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. I hope now you are ready to replace the old habits with new ones which are productive.
The Power of Habit explains the science of habit formation very well through many case studies and scientific experiments. You would really love the way the author has narrated the real-life stories and incidents of people who utilized the power of habits. So, I would highly recommend this book if you want to learn about habits.
You can also subscribe to my YouTube channel, where I keep talking about fiction and non-fiction books. And, thanks for reading.