Monday, June 25, 2012


There have been a series of books recently on my reading list that impinge territory covered by The Power of Habit and they all reinforce one another.  Perhaps that indicates I only read books that bolster my own thinking or that I am obsessed with a narrow field of thought.  Or maybe it is just a habit.

We are all slaves to our habits.  Or you could say habits free us to do really important stuff.  Habits operate from our subconscious mind meaning we don't think about them nearly as much as we just live them.  The beauty of the human brain is that we do most of what we do on auto-pilot, but are amazingly unaware of that.

The sub conscious allows us to survive.  We are able to interpret and react to many details without really being aware of them.  Our mind can automate much of what we have to do. The basic concept of a habit is something we do without conscious thinking after we are presented with a cue and before we get an anticipated reward.  To really entrench a habit there is usually a craving for the activity.

We are not conscious of most of our habits.  We have countless habits that take up much of our day. Although we can't identify many of our own habits other people can.  One example given has to do with hit music and how to manipulate our tastes.  Another example comes from Target, a major retail chain who wanted to determine prospective customers who were pregnant.  They used a huge data base to discover buying habits of pregnant women and refined it so they could get an early read which would allow them to direct more buyers into their stores.  This was so sophisticated that sometimes the women (or their families) were unaware of the pregnancy.

The author provides two case studies of social movements tying themselves to habits to grow.  One is Rosa Parks who refused to give up her bus seat in Montgomery which led to a dramatic upswing in the civil rights movement.  Another is the Saddleback Church that grew to a very wide membership.

We are all conscious that we have bad habits that hurt us and would like an easy way to change them.  Essentially that is my motive for reading the book.  Unfortunately bad habits are just as automatic as our good habits.

Charles Duhigg maintains you cannot break a habit, only replace it with something stronger.  The first step is to identify the routine needing to be replaced and then experiment with rewards to determine what is the motivation.  Then you have to isolate the cue.  Five cues are suggested:  location, time, emotional state, other people, and immediately preceding action.  Record and study the possibilities and then develop a plan.  Although it is much easier said than done this is an effective method to replace any habit.

Aristotle is quoted to good effect, "just as a piece of land is to be prepared beforehand if it is to nourish the seed, so the mind of the pupil has to be prepared in its habits if it is to enjoy and dislike the right things."

Free will occurs when you are consciously able to alter your habits.  Or when you rise above your habits and use your conscious mind to make better decisions.

To learn more about Charles Duhigg, visit his website at

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