The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business

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This process—in which the brain converts a sequence of actions into an automatic routine—is known as “chunking,” and it’s at the root of how habits form.18 There are dozens—if not hundreds—of behavioral chunks that we rely on every day.

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The problem is that your brain can’t tell the difference between bad and good habits, and so if you have a bad one, it’s always lurking there, waiting for the right cues and rewards.”

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He created a craving. And that craving, it turns out, is what makes cues and rewards work. That craving is what powers the habit loop.

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This is how new habits are created: by putting together a cue, a routine, and a reward, and then cultivating a craving that drives the loop.

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But to overpower the habit, we must recognize which craving is driving the behavior. If we’re not conscious of the anticipation, then we’re like

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In one group, 92 percent of people said they habitually exercised because it made them “feel good”—they grew to expect and crave the endorphins and other neurochemicals a workout provided. In another group, 67 percent of people said that working out gave them a sense of “accomplishment”—they had come to crave a regular sense of triumph from tracking their performances, and that self-reward was enough to make the physical activity into a habit. If you want

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cue and a reward, on their own, aren’t enough for a new habit to last. Only when your brain starts expecting the reward—craving the endorphins or sense of accomplishment—will it become automatic to lace up your jogging shoes each morning.

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The cue, in addition to triggering a routine, must also trigger a craving for the reward to come.29 “Let me ask you about a problem I have,”

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Anyone can use this basic formula to create habits of her or his own. Want to exercise more? Choose a cue, such as going to the gym as soon as you wake up, and a reward, such as a smoothie after each workout. Then think about that smoothie, or about the endorphin rush you’ll feel. Allow yourself to anticipate the reward. Eventually, that craving will make it easier to push through the gym doors every day. Want to craft a new eating habit? When researchers affiliated

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They focused on the craving for that reward when temptations arose, cultivated the craving into a mild obsession. And their cravings for that reward, researchers found, crowded out the temptation to drop the diet. The craving drove the habit loop.33

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Cravings are what drive habits. And figuring out how to spark a craving makes creating a new habit easier.

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Dungy recognized that you can never truly extinguish bad habits. Rather, to change a habit, you must keep the old cue, and deliver the old reward, but insert a new routine.

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That’s the rule: If you use the same cue, and provide the same reward, you can shift the routine and change the habit. Almost any behavior can be transformed if the cue and reward stay the same.

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habit reversal therapy

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Belief was the ingredient that made a reworked habit loop into a permanent behavior.

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Keystone habits say that success doesn’t depend on getting every single thing right, but instead relies on identifying a few key priorities and fashioning them into powerful levers.

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This book’s first section explained how habits work, how they can be created and changed. However, where should a would-be habit master start? Understanding keystone habits holds the answer to that question: The habits that matter most are the ones that, when they start to shift, dislodge and remake other patterns.

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“The best agencies understood the importance of routines. The worst agencies were headed by people who never thought about it, and then wondered why no one followed their orders.”

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exercise is a keystone habit that triggers widespread change. “Exercise spills over,” said James Prochaska, a University of Rhode Island researcher. “There’s something about it that makes other good habits easier.”

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families who habitually eat dinner together

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Making your bed every morning

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Small wins are exactly what they sound like, and are part of how keystone habits create widespread changes. A huge body of research has shown that small wins have enormous power, an influence disproportionate to the accomplishments of the victories themselves.

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“More common is the circumstance where small wins are scattered … like miniature experiments that test implicit theories about resistance and opportunity and uncover both resources and barriers that were invisible before the situation was stirred up.”

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At the core of that education is an intense focus on an all-important habit: willpower. Dozens of studies show that willpower is the single most important keystone habit for individual success.

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This is how willpower becomes a habit: by choosing a certain behavior ahead of time, and then following that routine when an inflection point arrives.

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During turmoil, organizational habits become malleable enough to both assign responsibility and create a more equitable balance of power. Crises are so valuable, in fact, that sometimes it’s worth stirring up a sense of looming catastrophe rather than letting it die down.

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A company with dysfunctional habits can’t turn around simply because a leader orders it. Rather, wise executives seek out moments of crisis—or create the perception of crisis—and cultivate the sense that something must change, until everyone is finally ready to overhaul the patterns

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So for companies, pregnant women are gold mines. New parents buy lots of stuff—diapers and wipes, cribs and One-sies, blankets and bottles—that stores such as Target sell at a significant profit. One survey conducted in 2010 estimated that the average parent spends $6,800 on baby items before a child’s first birthday.

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On a playground, peer pressure is dangerous. In adult life, it’s how business gets done and communities self-organize.

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However, to modify a habit, you must decide to change it. You must consciously accept the hard work of identifying the cues and rewards that drive the habits’ routines, and find alternatives. You must know you have control and be self-conscious enough to use

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it

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think that yesterday was a crisis in my life,” he wrote in his diary. Regarding his ability to change, “I will assume for the present—until next year—that it is no illusion. My first act of free will shall be to believe in free will.”

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Over the next year, he practiced every day. In his diary, he wrote as if his control over himself and his choices was never in question.

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If you believe you can change—if you make it a habit—the change becomes real. This is the real power of habit: the insight that your habits are what you choose them to be.

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Water, he said, is the most apt analogy for how a habit works. Water “hollows out for itself a channel, which grows broader and deeper; and, after having ceased to flow, it resumes, when it flows again, the path traced by itself before.”31 You now know how to redirect that path. You now have the power to swim.

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THE FRAMEWORK: • Identify the routine • Experiment with rewards • Isolate the cue • Have a plan

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As you test four or five different rewards, you can use an old trick to look for patterns: After each activity, jot down on a piece of paper the first three things that come to mind when you get back to your desk.

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Then, set an alarm on your watch or computer for fifteen minutes. When it goes off, ask yourself: Do you still feel the urge for that cookie?

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By experimenting with different rewards, you can isolate what you are actually craving, which is essential in redesigning the habit.

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Experiments have shown that almost all habitual cues fit into one of five categories: Location Time Emotional state Other people

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Immediately preceding action

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So if you’re trying to figure out the cue for the “going to the cafeteria and buying a chocolate chip cookie” habit, you write down five things the moment the urge hits (these are my actual notes from when I was trying to diagnose my habit): Where are you? (sitting at my desk) What time is it? (3:36 P.M.) What’s your emotional state? (bored) Who else is around? (no one) What action preceded the urge? (answered an email)

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Put another way, a habit is a formula our brain automatically follows: When I see CUE, I will do ROUTINE in order to get a REWARD.

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To re-engineer that formula, we need to begin making choices again. And the easiest way to do this, according to study after study, is to have a plan. Within psychology, these plans are known as “implementation intentions.”

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So I wrote a plan: At 3:30, every day, I will walk to a friend’s desk and talk for 10 minutes.