I’m going to try to remember The Power of Habit, a book I read this year.
Have you tried to get someone to read a book you liked? Was it hard? Probably. Getting someone else interested in a 5-15 hour reading activity is a tough sell.
But even books you really like are hard to explain to other people. Careers are made out of condensing the purpose and ideas of books to make them interesting to others (marketing and book summary writing, among others). If you aren’t getting paid to do this, you are by definition an amateur at it.
In this series, called I Try to Remember, or ITTR, I don’t even take notes on the books. I just try and remember what the book was about! The parts that stick with me are probably the most interesting parts anyway, right?
I finished reading a book about habits, why they form, and what you might be able to do to change them. But I may have forgotten most of it, as I listened to the book during my daily commute months ago.
The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg condenses the results of large swaths of scientific research about habits and is told in a novelized way. This is an easy book to listen to in the car, something I recommend.
I try to remember the Power of Habit
Here are my key takeaways:
A habit is a decision you made once, and then stopped making.
This is so obvious that it was maddening when I thought about it . When did I make the decision that I would no longer play recreational sports? I don’t recall but my body sure shows it this many years past high school sports.
Habits that “stick” have a craving associated with them.
The classic method of making a new habit is forcing yourself, through sheer will, to do something for 28 days. After the 28th day, you will supposedly have a habit. Maybe that works in some cases.
The truth (that I now accept) is that I must first identify a craving, a reason that gets my blood pumping and my brain working, a why, to make any new or changed habit stick. If my why for doing something is weak, I’ll probably drop the habit.
You can change the routine/reward, but you can’t kill the habit.
This one threw me for a loop – you cannot kill a habit once it is formed.
You can, however, change the routine (the thing you do).
Instead of eating a donut at 3:00PM when I get restless at work, perhaps I’ll go for a walk. Or, if I’ve identified the reward for my habit (sugar high), I may be able to shift that to a new reward – an apple?
But at 3:00PM, when I get restless at work, I’m going to have to do something besides sit there. The habit is set.
You can’t change any habit until you recognize the cue.
Duhigg goes into hefty detail about the habit loop.
All habits have a cue that sets them off. You can’t change the habit without first identifying the cue. What sets off the habit loop is different for each habit, and you must spend time becoming self-aware to figure out what the cue is.
Example: when I put my kids to bed at night – this is my cue for my “free time habit” the rest of the evening. I close the door after goodnight kisses and hugs, and then I am free to do what I want.
My reward is whatever the “me time” event is. Tonight, it is writing this blog post – that’s the routine that I’ve substituted for watching a TV show/gaming/YouTube surfing, which is what I normally do.
If you feel you must change something, just change one thing, and make that thing a keystone habit.
Some habits, like exercise, are found to be “keystone” habits, meaning that there is a compounding positive (or negative) effect on the rest of your life from changing just the one habit.
You only have so much time and energy to make changes in your life. If you spend energy analyzing everything you are going to do everyday, you wouldn’t make it out of the house in the morning. Habits are critical parts of our daily lives. And your days are already full.
You can’t add anything new to your existing day. You have to change something you already do, to stop something to start something new.
So take the time to find one thing, one habit that you can focus on at a time. Find the one habit you want to analyze for the cue, inspect the routine/action, and decide if the reward you are giving yourself for the habit completion is good for you. Then change that one habit.
Listening/reading The Power of Habit is probably worth your time, if solely for the additional self-awareness that it can generate.
If you find yourself asking “why am I doing this?” a little more often than you used to, or analyzing why you really want that donut – and changing a bad habit to a good one, it will have been useful.
Have you read this book? Do you think you can remember as much as I did about a book you read months ago?
Thanks for reading. As a reward for making it this far, here are two back of the book quotes I would like to submit for the next printing of The Power of Habit:
“Amaze your friends at parties by recounting the name and purpose of the basal ganglia!”
“Shock your co-workers by drawing a scientifically correct habit loop diagram on the dry-erase board at work!”