I am really looking forward to reading “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg. Its on my kindle, slowly making its way up the list. Here is an extract from an interview with Neurotribes:
In his provocative and brilliantly written new book, The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg — a reporter for the New York Times — pries open the box with the help of recent research and finds surprising good news: Even the most thoughtless and self-destructive cycles of behavior can be changed, if you understand how habits are formed and stored in memory.
Duhigg breaks down the sequence of ritualized behavior (which he calls the habit loop ) into three component parts: the cue, the routine , and the reward . The cue is the trigger that sets the sequence in motion. Perhaps it’s a certain time of day when you tell yourself it’s time for your daily chocolate-chip cookie (that was Duhigg’s particular jones). Perhaps it’s email from your boss that makes you want to dash out for another smoke. Perhaps it’s the chiming bells and flashing lights of a crowded casino, designed to make a room full of incremental losers look like winners who are hitting jackpots all the time. The routine is the behavior itself, which can be positive (like a daily running habit) or harmful (like gambling away the family savings). And the third part is the reward — the goal of the behavioral loop, which your brain’s pleasure centers gauge to determine if a sequence of behavior is worth repeating and storing in a lockbox of habit.
A pint of butterfat and sugar with a Ben and Jerry’s label, a spurt of oxytocin when you see that @jayrosen_nyu or @ebertchicago has retweeted you, that tingling in your legs after a strenuous workout, the numbing rush of a fix, the first puffs of an American Spirit… it’s all the same to the basal ganglia, four lumps of gray matter in the forebrain that encode highly rewarding behavior for easy repetition.
Though routinized behavior is often framed in terms of the problems it can cause, Duhigg points out that habit formation is an evolutionarily keen strategy for managing the limited throughput of our conscious awareness. If we couldn’t even brush our teeth or drive without having to ponder the nuances of every action, our brains would require more real estate in decision-making areas like the prefrontal cortex. One advantage of “chunking” behavior into automatic sequences stored in memory — Duhigg tells us in a typically enlightening aside — is that our skulls can be smaller, ensuring that more mothers survive giving birth. Darwin FTW.
But when you become a slave of your most destructive habit loops — blowing through the last of the family credit at Harrah’s, or watching yourself down another half-dozen martinis like a hipster robot, though you know it’s wrecking your marriage — it’s time to make a change. Duhigg explains why our usual way of tackling the problem — telling ourselves “I’ve got to quit doing this, now! ” and berating ourselves when we don’t — is often doomed to failure. Then he maps out a more effective path toward enduring habit change that focuses not on trying to scrap the routine all at once, but on becoming aware of the cues and manipulating the rewards. The encouraging news is that success in making modest alterations in behavior (which Duhigg calls “small wins”) creates a ripple effect into other areas of your life. Sometimes the most effective way to quit smoking might be to start walking the ten blocks to the office every other day instead of taking the subway. Small wins beget larger ones.