Notes from ‘The Power of Habit’


Charles Duhigg in his book, The Power of Habit: Why we do what we do in life and business, argues how powerful habits are and how habits shape our behaviors and personality. He attempts to answer the following questions using responses in the quotes.
1. Why should we care about our habits?
Even someone who cannot remember his age or almost anything else can develop habits that seem inconceivably complex—until you realize that everyone relies on similar neurological processes every day. His and others’ research would help reveal the subconscious mechanisms that impact the countless choices that seem as if they are the products of well-reasoned thought, but are influenced by urges most of us barely recognize or understand.
2. An insight for physicians who does research.
He sought help from a physician whose tolerance for experimentation outweighed his fear of malpractice.
3. How does our brain prioritize the memories and stores them?
Why have I kept that memory, but I cannot remember what my teacher looked like? Why does my brain decide that one memory is more important than another? If you picture the human brain as an onion, composed of layer upon layer of cells, then the outside layers—those closest to the scalp—are the most recent additions from an evolutionary perspective. When you dream up a new invention or laugh at a friend’s joke, it is the outside parts of your brain at work. That is where the most complex thinking occurs. Deeper inside the brain and closer to the brain stem—where the brain meets the spinal column—are older, more primitive structures. They control our automatic behaviors, such as breathing and swallowing, or the startle response we feel when someone leaps out from behind a bush.
4. How habits are converted to routines, using an experiment done by rats.
As each rat learned how to navigate the maze, its mental activity decreased. As the route became more and more automatic, each rat started thinking less and less. It was as if the first few times a rat explored the maze; its brain had to work at full power to make sense of all the new information. However, after a few days of running the same route, the rat did not need to scratch the walls or smell the air anymore, and so the brain activity associated with scratching and smelling ceased. It did not need to choose which direction to turn, and so decision-making centers of the brain went quiet. All it had to do was recall the quickest path to the chocolate. Within a week, even the brain structures related to memory had quieted. The rat had internalized how to sprint through the maze to such a degree that it hardly needed to think at all. This tiny, ancient neurological structure seemed to take over as the rat ran faster and faster and its brain worked less and less. This process—in which the brain converts a sequence of actions into an automatic routine—is known as “chunking,” and it is at the root of how habits form.1.18 There are dozens—if not hundreds—of behavioral chunks that we rely on every day. Some are simple: You automatically put toothpaste on your toothbrush before sticking it in your mouth. Some, such as getting dressed or making the kids’ lunch, are a little more complex. Others are so complicated that it is remarkable a small bit of tissue that evolved millions of years ago can turn them into habits at all. The routine occurs by habit.
5. Why are habits converted to routines?
Habits, scientists say, emerge because the brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort. Left to its own devices, the brain will try to make almost any routine into a habit, because habits allow our minds to ramp down more often. This effort-saving instinct is a huge advantage. An efficient brain requires less room, which makes for a smaller head, which makes childbirth easier and, therefore, causes fewer infant and mother deaths. An efficient brain also allows us to stop constantly thinking about basic behaviors, such as walking and choosing what to eat, so we can devote mental energy to inventing spears, irrigation systems, and, eventually, airplanes and video games.
6. What is the three-step habit formation loop?
However, conserving mental effort is tricky, because if our brains power down at the wrong moment, we might fail to notice something important, such as a predator hiding in the bushes or a speeding car as we pull onto the street. So our basal ganglia have devised a clever system to determine when to let habits take over. It is something that happens whenever a chunk of behavior starts or ends.
To deal with this uncertainty, the brain spends much effort at the beginning of a habit looking for something—a cue—that offers a hint as to which pattern to use.
This process within our brains is a three-step loop. First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future.
Over time, this loop—cue, routine, reward; cue, routine, reward—becomes more and more automatic. The cue and reward become intertwined until a powerful sense of anticipation and craving emerges. Eventually, whether in a chilly MIT laboratory or your driveway, a habit is born.
When a habit emerges, the brain stops fully participating in decision-making. It stops working so hard or diverts focus to other tasks. So unless you deliberately fight a habit—unless you find new routines—the pattern will unfold automatically.
7. What are the pros and cons of habit formation?
Habits never really disappear. They are encoded into the structures of our brain, and that is a huge advantage for us because it would be awful if we had to relearn how to drive after every vacation. The problem is that your brain cannot tell the difference between bad and good habits, and so if you have a bad one, it is always lurking there, waiting for the right cues and rewards. This explains why it is so hard to create exercise habits, for instance, or change what we eat.
Without habit loops, our brains would shut down, overwhelmed by the minutiae of daily life. People whose basal ganglia are damaged by injury or disease often become mentally paralyzed. They lose the ability to ignore insignificant details. Without our basal ganglia, we lose access to the hundreds of habits we rely on every day. As long as your basal ganglia are intact, and the cues remain constant, the behaviors will occur unthinkingly. At the same time, however, the brain’s dependence on automatic routines can be dangerous. Habits are often as much a curse as a benefit.
The objects, when presented outside of the context of the habit loop, made no sense to him. Habits are surprisingly delicate. If Eugene’s cues changed the slightest bit, his habits fell apart.
It is possible to learn and make unconscious choices without remembering anything about the lesson or decision making. Habits, as much as memory and reason, are at the root of how we behave. We might not remember the experiences that create our habits, but once they are lodged within our brains, they influence how we act—often without our realization.
8. How businesses make money by making us cultivate new habits and exploiting them?
Routines can be incredibly complex or fantastically simple (some habits, such as those related to emotions, are measured in milliseconds). Rewards can range from food or drugs that cause physical sensations to emotional payoffs, such as the feelings of pride that accompany praise or self- congratulation. They shape our lives far more than we realize—they are so strong, in fact, that they cause our brains to cling to them at the exclusion of all else, including common sense.
Every McDonald’s, for instance, looks the same—the company deliberately tries to standardize stores’ architecture and what employees say to customers, so everything is a consistent cue to trigger eating routines. The foods at some chains are specifically engineered to deliver immediate rewards—the fries, for instance, are designed to begin disintegrating the moment they hit your tongue, in order to deliver a hit of salt and grease as fast as possible, causing your pleasure centers to light up and your brain to lock in the pattern. All the better for tightening the habit loop.
However, even these habits are delicate. When a fast food restaurant closes down, the families that previously ate there will often start having dinner at home, rather than seek out an alternative location. Even small shifts can end the pattern. However, since we often don’t recognize these habit loops as they grow, we are blind to our ability to control them. By learning to observe the cues and rewards, though, we can change the routines.
The brain has this amazing ability to find happiness even when the memories of it are gone.
Claude Hopkins was best known for a series of rules he coined explaining how to create new habits among consumers. These rules would transform industries and eventually became conventional wisdom among marketers, educational reformers, public health professionals, politicians, and CEOs. Even today, Hopkins’s rules influence everything from how we buy cleaning supplies to the tools governments use for eradicating the disease. They are fundamental to creating any new routine.
As the nation had become wealthier, people had started buying larger amounts of sugary, processed foods.
The secret to his success, Hopkins would later boast, was that he had found a certain kind of cue and reward that fueled a particular habit. It is an alchemy so powerful that even today the basic principles are still used by video game designers, food companies, hospitals, and millions of salesmen around the world. Eugene Pauly taught us about the habit loop, but it was Claude Hopkins that showed how new habits can be cultivated and grown. So what, exactly, did Hopkins do? He created a craving. Moreover, that craving, it turns out, is what makes cues and rewards work. That craving is what powers the habit loop.
To sell Pepsodent, then, Hopkins needed a trigger that would justify the toothpaste’s daily use. He sat down with a pile of dental textbooks. “It was dry reading,” he later wrote. “But in the middle of one book, I found a reference to the mucin plaques on teeth, which I afterward called ‘the film.’ That gave me an appealing idea. I resolved to advertise this toothpaste as a creator of beauty. To deal with that cloudy film.” In focusing on tooth film, Hopkins was ignoring the fact that this same film has always covered people’s teeth and hadn’t seemed to bother anyone. The film is a naturally occurring membrane that builds up on teeth regardless of what you eat or how often you brush.2.7 People had never paid much attention to it, and there was a little reason they should: You can get rid of the film by eating an apple, running your finger over your teeth, brushing, or vigorously swirling the liquid around your mouth. Toothpaste did not do anything to help remove the film. In fact, one of the leading dental researchers of the time said that all toothpastes—particularly Pepsodent—were worthless. Hopkins had found a cue that was simple, had existed for ages, and was so easy to trigger that an advertisement could cause people to comply automatically. Moreover, the reward, as Hopkins envisioned it, was, even more, enticing. Who, after all, doesn’t want to be more beautiful? Who does not want a prettier smile? Particularly when all it takes is a quick brush with Pepsodent?
“I made for myself a million dollars on Pepsodent,” Hopkins wrote a few years after the product appeared on shelves. The key, he said, was that he had “learned the right human psychology.” That psychology was grounded in two basic rules: First, find a simple and obvious cue. Second, clearly define the rewards.
Studies of people who have successfully started new exercise routines, for instance, show they are more likely to stick with a workout plan if they choose a specific cue, such as running as soon as they get home from work, and a clear reward, such as a beer or an evening of guilt-free television.2.13 Research on dieting says creating new food habits requires a predetermined cue—such as planning menus in advance—and simple rewards for dieters when they stick to their intentions.
For years, market research had said that consumers were clamoring for something that could get rid of bad smells—not mask them but eradicate them altogether. They wanted to keep the ads simple: Find an obvious cue and clearly define the reward. Scents are strange; even the strongest fade with constant exposure. That is why no one was using Febreze, Stimson realized. The product’s cue—the thing that was supposed to trigger daily use—was hidden from the people who needed it most. Bad scents simply weren’t frequently noticed enough to trigger a regular habit. As a result, Febreze ended up in the back of a closet. The people with the greatest proclivity to use the spray never smelled the odors that should have reminded them the living room needed a spritz.”
9. How certain habits create craving?
How do you build a new habit when there’s no cue to trigger usage, and when the consumers who most need it do not appreciate the reward?
As the monkey became more and more practiced at the behavior—as the habit became stronger and stronger—Julio’s brain began anticipating the blackberry juice. In other words, the shapes on the monitor had become a cue not just for pulling a lever, but also for a pleasure response inside the monkey’s brain. Julio started expecting his reward as soon as he saw the yellow spirals and red squiggles. When the juice did not arrive or was late or diluted, Julio would get angry and make unhappy noises, or become mopey. Moreover, within Julio’s brain, Schultz watched a new pattern emerge: craving. When Julio anticipated juice but didn’t receive it, a neurological pattern associated with desire and frustration erupted inside his skull. When Julio saw the cue, he started anticipating a juice-fueled joy. However, if the juice did not arrive, that joy became a craving that, if unsatisfied, drove Julio to anger or depression. However, once a monkey had developed a habit—once its brain anticipated the reward—the distractions held no allure. The animal would sit there, watching the monitor and pressing the lever, over and over again, regardless of the offer of food or the opportunity to go outside. The anticipation and sense of craving were so overwhelming that the monkeys stayed glued to their screens, the same way a gambler will play slots long after he is lost his winnings.2.23 This explains why habits are so powerful: They create neurological cravings. Most of the time, these cravings emerge so gradually that we are not aware they exist, so we are often blind to their influence. However, as we associate cues with certain rewards, a subconscious craving emerges in our brains that start the habit loop spinning.
Most food sellers locate their kiosks in food courts, but Cinnabon tries to locate their stores away from other food stalls. Why? Because Cinnabon executives want the smell of cinnamon rolls to waft down hallways and around corners uninterrupted, so that shoppers will start subconsciously craving a roll. By the time a consumer turns a corner and sees the Cinnabon store, that craving is a roaring monster inside his head, and he’ll reach, unthinkingly, for his wallet. The habit loop is spinning because a sense of craving has emerged.
“There is nothing programmed into our brains that makes us see a box of donuts and automatically want a sugary treat,” Schultz told me. “But once our brain learns that a donut box contains yummy sugar and other carbohydrates, it will start anticipating the sugar high. Our brains will push us toward the box. Then, if we do not eat the donut, we’ll feel disappointed.” 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 – smoking, emailing, etc. If someone disables the buzzing—and, thus, removes the cue—people can work for hours without thinking to check their in-boxes. Particularly strong habits wrote two researchers at the University of Michigan, produce addiction-like reactions so that “wanting evolves into obsessive craving” that can force our brains into autopilot, “even in the face of strong disincentives, including loss of reputation, job, home, and family.
10. How businesses take advantage of this craving to make profits?
However, these cravings do not have complete authority over us. As the next chapter explains, there are mechanisms that can help us ignore the temptations. However, to overpower the habit, we must recognize which craving is driving the behavior. If we are not conscious of the anticipation, then we are like the shoppers who wander, as if drawn by an unseen force, into Cinnabon.
However, countless studies have shown that a 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. The cue, in addition to triggering a routine, must also trigger a craving for the reward to come. That craving is an essential part of the formula for creating new habits that Claude Hopkins, the Pepsodent ad man, never recognized. Unlike other pastes of the period, Pepsodent contained citric acid, as well as doses of mint oil and other chemicals.2.31 Pepsodent’s inventor used those ingredients to make the toothpaste taste fresh, but they had another, unanticipated effect as well. They are irritants that create a cool, tingling sensation on the tongue and gums.
Customers said that if they forgot to use Pepsodent, they realized their mistake because they missed that cool, tingling sensation in their mouths. They expected—they craved—that slight irritation. If it was not there, their mouths did not feel clean. Even today, almost all toothpaste contain additives with the sole job of making your mouth tingle after you brush.
“Consumers need some signal that a product is working.” The craving drove the habit loop. There are dozens of daily rituals we ought to perform each day that never become habits.
Because there’s no craving, that has made sunscreen into a daily habit. Cravings are what drive habits. Moreover, figuring out how to spark a craving makes creating a new habit easier.
11. How can habits be changed?
“Champions do not do extraordinary things,” Dungy would explain. “They do ordinary things, but they do them without thinking, too fast for the other team to react. They follow the habits they’ve learned.”
Habits are a three-step loop—the cue, the routine, and the reward—but Dungy only wanted to attack the middle step, the routine. He knew from experience that it was easier to convince someone to adopt a new behavior if there was something familiar at the beginning and end.
Rather, to change a habit, you must keep the old cue, and deliver the old reward, but insert a new routine. That is 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.
A smoker usually can’t quit unless she finds some activity to replace cigarettes when her nicotine craving is triggered. THE GOLDEN RULE OF HABIT CHANGE – You cannot Extinguish a Bad Habit, You Can Only Change It. HOW IT WORKS: USE THE SAME CUE. PROVIDE THE SAME REWARD. CHANGE THE ROUTINE.
They have practiced over and over until the behaviors are automatic. When his strategy works, his players can move with a speed that is impossible to overcome.
Rates are difficult to measure, because of participants’ anonymity. Moreover, though the habits associated with alcoholism are extreme, the lessons AA provides demonstrate how almost any habit—even the most obstinate—can be changed. AA that is similar to the one Tony Dungy used on the football field. Their findings endorse the Golden Rule of habit change: AA succeeds because it helps alcoholics use the same cues, and get the same reward, but it shifts the routine.
“It is not obvious from the way they are written, but to complete those steps, someone has to create a list of all the triggers for their alcoholic urges.”
Alcoholics crave a drink because it offers escape, relaxation, companionship, the blunting of anxieties, and an opportunity for emotional release. They might crave a cocktail to forget their worries. However, they do not necessarily crave feeling drunk. The physical effects of alcohol are often one of the least rewarding parts of drinking for addicts. They picked up a bottle because that is how they automatically dealt with anxiety. However, once they learned alternate routines for dealing with stress, the drinking stopped for good. Even when alcoholics’ brains were changed through surgery, it was not enough. The old cues and cravings for rewards were still there, waiting to pounce. The alcoholics only permanently changed once they learned new routines that drew on the old triggers and provided a familiar relief.
Asking patients to describe what triggers their habitual behavior is called awareness training. “Most people’s habits have occurred for so long they do not pay attention to what causes it anymore.” “It seems ridiculously simple, but once you are aware of how your habit works, once you recognize the cues and rewards, you are halfway to changing it.” “It seems like it should be more complex. The truth is, the brain can be reprogrammed. You just have to be deliberate about it.”
If you want to stop smoking, ask yourself, do you do it because you love nicotine, or because it provides a burst of stimulation, a structure to your day, a way to socialize? If you smoke because you need stimulation, studies indicate that some caffeine in the afternoon can increase the odds you’ll quit. More than three dozen studies of former smokers have found that identifying the cues and rewards they associate with cigarettes, and then choosing new routines that provide similar payoffs—a piece of Nicorette, a quick series of push-ups, or simply taking a few minutes to stretch and relax—makes it more likely they will quit.
12. Why ‘belief’ is essential to change a bad habit to a good one?
If you identify the cues and rewards, you can change the routine. At least, most of the time. For some habits, however, there’s one other ingredient that’s necessary: belief. Dungy’s strategy, he explained, was to shift the team’s behaviors until their performances were automatic.
They just had to learn a few key moves and get them right every time. Players mess up when they start thinking too much or second-guessing their plays. What Dungy wanted was to take all that decision making out of their game. Moreover, to do that, he needed them to recognize their existing habits and accept new routines. The brilliance of this system was that it removed the need for decision making. It allowed Brooks to move faster because everything was a reaction—and eventually a habit—rather than a choice. However, slowly, they began to improve. Eventually, the patterns became so familiar to players that they unfolded automatically when the team took the field.
Researchers began finding that habit replacement worked pretty well for many people until the stresses of life—such as finding out your mom has cancer, or your marriage is coming apart—got too high, at which point alcoholics often fell off the wagon. Academics asked why, if habit replacement is so effective, it seemed to fail at such critical moments. Moreover, as they dug into alcoholics’ stories to answer that question, they learned that replacement habits only become durable new behaviors when they are accompanied by something else. Identifying cues and choosing new routines is important, but without another ingredient, the new habits never fully took hold. The secret, the alcoholics said, was God. Then they looked at the data to see if there was any correlation between religious belief and how long people stayed sober. It was not God that mattered; the researchers figured out. It was belief itself that made a difference. Once people learned how to believe in something, that skill started spilling over to other parts of their lives, until they started believing they could change. The belief was the ingredient that made a reworked habit loop into a permanent behavior.
“At some point, people in AA look around the room and think, if it worked for that guy, I guess it can work for me,” said Lee Ann Kaskutas, a senior scientist at the Alcohol Research Group. “There’s something powerful about groups and shared experiences. People might be skeptical about their ability to change if they are by themselves, but a group will convince them to suspend disbelief. A community creates belief.” “Belief is the biggest part of success in professional football,” Dungy told me. “The team wanted to believe, but when things got tense, they went back to their comfort zones and old habits.”
“Most football teams are not really teams. They are just guys who work together,” a third player from that period told me. “But we became a team. It felt amazing. The coach was the spark, but it was about more than him. After he had come back, it felt like we believed in each other, like we knew how to play together in a way we did not before.”
Just as frequently, however, there was no tragedy that preceded people’s transformations. Rather, they changed because they were embedded in social groups that made change easier. When people join groups where change seems possible, the potential for that change to occur becomes realer. However, we do know that for habits to permanently change, people must believe that change is feasible. The same process that makes AA so effective—the power of a group to teach individuals how to believe—happens whenever people come together to help one another change. Belief is easier when it occurs within a community. However, Dungy’s players say it is because they believed, and because that belief made everything they had learned—all the routines they had practiced until they became automatic—stick, even at the most stressful moments. There is, unfortunately, no specific set of steps guaranteed to work for every person. We know that a habit cannot be eradicated—it must, instead, be replaced. Moreover, we know that habits are most malleable when the Golden Rule of habit change is applied: If we keep the same cue and the same reward, a new routine can be inserted. However, that is not enough. For a habit to stay changed, people must believe change is possible. Moreover, most often, that belief only emerges with the help of a group. The evidence is clear: If you want to change a habit, you must find an alternative routine, and your odds of success go up dramatically when you commit to changing as part of a group. Belief is essential, and it grows out of a communal experience, even if that community is only as large as two people.
13. How to cultivate and change organizational routines?
And as scientists have discovered, it is not just individual lives that can shift when habits are tended to. It is also companies, organizations, and communities.
So how did O’Neill make one of the largest, stodgiest, and most potentially dangerous companies into a profit machine and a bastion of safety? By attacking one habit and then watching the changes ripple through the organization. “But you cannot order people to change. That is not how the brain works. So I decided I was going to start by focusing on one thing. If I could start disrupting the habits around one thing, it would spread throughout the entire company.” O’Neill believed that some habits had the power to start a chain reaction, changing other habits as they move through an organization. Some habits, in other words, matter more than others in remaking businesses and lives. These are “keystone habits,” and they can influence how people work, eat, play, live, spend, and communicate. Keystone habits start a process that, over time, transforms everything. Keystone habits say that success does not depend on getting every single thing right, but instead relies on identifying a few key priorities and fashioning them into powerful levers. 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 hold the answer to that question: The habits that matter most are the ones that, when they start to shift, dislodge and remake other patterns. Keystone habits explain how Michael Phelps became an Olympic champion and why some college students outperform their peers. They describe why some people, after years of trying, suddenly lose forty pounds while becoming more productive at work and still getting home in time for dinner with their kids. Moreover, Keystone habits explain how Alcoa became one of the best performing stocks in the Dow Jones index while also becoming one of the safest places on earth. He quickly figured out that the government’s efforts, which should have been guided by logical rules and deliberate priorities, were instead driven by bizarre institutional processes that, in many ways, operated like habits. Bureaucrats and politicians, rather than making decisions, were responding to cues with automatic routines to get rewards such as promotions or reelection. It was the habit loop—spread across thousands of people and billions of dollars.
“Individuals have habits; groups have routines,” wrote the academic Geoffrey Hodgson, who spent a career examining organizational patterns. “Routines are the organizational analog of habits.” To O’Neill, these kinds of habits seemed dangerous. “We were ceding decision making to a process that occurred without actually thinking.”
Some departments at NASA, for instance, were overhauling themselves by deliberately instituting organizational routines that encouraged engineers to take more risks. When unmanned rockets exploded on takeoff, department heads would applaud, so that everyone would know their division had tried and failed, but at least, they had tried. Eventually, mission control filled with applause every time something expensive blew up. It became an organizational habit. “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.”
What most people did not realize, however, was that O’Neill’s plan for getting to zero injuries entailed the most radical realignment in Alcoa’s history. The key to protecting Alcoa employees, O’Neill believed, was understanding why injuries happened in the first place. Moreover, to understand why injuries happened, you had to study how the manufacturing process was going wrong. To understand how things were going wrong, you had to bring in people who could educate workers about quality control and the most efficient work processes, so that it would be easier to do everything right since correct work is also safer work. In other words, to protect workers, Alcoa needed to become the best, most streamlined aluminum company on Earth. O’Neill’s safety plan, in effect, was modeled on the habit loop. He identified a simple cue: an employee injury. He instituted an automatic routine: Any time someone was injured, the unit president had to report it to O’Neill within twenty-four hours and present a plan for making sure the injury never happened again.4.8,4.9 And there was a reward: The only people who got promoted were those who embraced the system.
14. How Keystone habits influence multiple aspects of our lives?
Take, for instance, studies from the past decade examining the impacts of exercise on daily routines.4.10 When people start habitually exercising, even as infrequently as once a week, they start changing other, unrelated patterns in their lives, often unknowingly. Typically, people who exercise start eating better and becoming more productive at work. They smoke less and show more patience with colleagues and family. They use their credit cards less frequently and say they feel less stressed. It is not completely clear why. However, for many people, exercise is a keystone habit that triggers widespread change. “Exercise spills over,” said James Prochaska, a the University of Rhode Island researcher. “There’s something about it that makes other good habits easier.”
Studies have documented that families who habitually eat dinner together seem to raise children with better homework skills, higher grades, greater emotional control, and more confidence. Making your bed every morning is correlated with better productivity, a greater sense of well-being, and stronger skills at sticking with a budget. It is not that a family meal or a tidy bed causes better grades or less frivolous spending. However, somehow those initial shifts start chain reactions that help other good habits take hold. If you focus on changing or cultivating keystone habits, you can cause widespread shifts. However, identifying keystone habits is tricky. To find them, you have to know where to look. Detecting keystone habits means searching out certain characteristics. Keystone habits offer what is known within the academic literature as “small wins.” They help other habits to flourish by creating new structures, and they establish cultures where change becomes contagious – right routines, perfect physique, capacity for obsessiveness.
All he needed to do was target a few specific habits that had nothing to do with swimming and everything to do with creating the right mind-set. He designed a series of behaviors that Phelps could use to become calm and focused before each race, to find those tiny advantages that, in a sport where victory can come in milliseconds, would make all the difference. When Phelps was a teenager, for instance, at the end of each practice, Bowman would tell him to go home and “watch the videotape. Watch it before you go to sleep and when you wake up.” During practices, when Bowman ordered Phelps to swim at race speed, he would shout, “Put in the videotape!” and Phelps would push himself, as hard as he could. It almost felt anticlimactic as he cut through the water. He had done this so many times in his head that, by now, it felt rote. However, it worked.
Small wins are exactly what they sound like, and are part of how keystone habits create widespread changes.
Small wins fuel transformative changes by leveraging tiny advantages into patterns that convince people that bigger achievements are within reach. When Bob Bowman started working with Phelps and his mother on the keystone habits of visualization and relaxation, neither Bowman nor Phelps had any idea what they were doing. “We’d experiment, try different things until we found stuff that worked,” “Eventually we figured out it was best to concentrate on these tiny moments of success and build them into mental triggers. We worked them into a routine. There’s a series of things we do before every race that are designed to give Michael a sense of building victory. It was one additional victory in a lifetime full of small wins. Piling on so much change at once made it impossible for any of it to stick.
However, this keystone habit—food journaling—created a structure that helped other habits to flourish. Six months into the study, people who kept daily food records had lost twice as much weight as everyone else. “After a while, the journal got inside my head,” one person told me. “I started thinking about meals differently. It gave me a system for thinking about food without becoming depressed.”
This is the final way that keystone habits encourage widespread change: by creating cultures where new values become ingrained. Keystone habits make tough choices—such as firing a top executive—easier, because when that person violates the culture, it is clear they have to go.
Cultures grow out of the keystone habits in every organization, whether leaders are aware of them or not. “Grit,” which they defined as the tendency to work “strenuously toward challenges, maintaining effort and interest over years despite failure, adversity, and plateaus in progress.” What’s most interesting about grit is how it emerges. It grows out of a culture that cadets create for themselves, and that culture often emerges because of keystone habits they adopt habits of mental and physical discipline. Those assets, however, only carry you so far. To succeed, they need a keystone habit that creates a culture—Keystone habits transform us by creating cultures that make clear the values that, in the heat of a difficult decision or a moment of uncertainty, we might otherwise forget.
15. How to use inflection points to give control and induce willpower in case of people who are resistant to change their habits?
They were retirees, elderly mechanics, and store clerks. They were in life’s final chapters, and most had no desire to pick up a new book. However, the agony is so extreme that it is not unusual for people to skip out on rehab sessions. Patients, particularly elderly ones, often refuse to comply with doctors’ orders. The patients who had written plans in their booklets had started walking almost twice as fast as the ones who had not. They had started getting in and out of their chairs, unassisted, almost three times as fast. The psychologist wanted to understand why. She examined the booklets and discovered that most of the blank pages had been filled in with specific, detailed plans about the most mundane aspects of recovery. One patient, for example, had written, “I will walk to the bus stop tomorrow to meet my wife from work.” As the psychologist scrutinized the booklets, she saw that many of the plans had something in common: They focused on how patients would handle a specific moment of anticipated pain. The man who exercised on the way to the bathroom, for instance, knew that each time he stood up from the couch, the ache was excruciating. So he wrote out a plan for dealing with it: Automatically take the first step, right away, so he would not be tempted to sit down again.
So he detailed every obstacle he might confront and come up with a solution ahead of time. Put another way, the patients’ plans were built around inflection points when they knew their pain—and thus the temptation to quit—would be strongest. The patients were telling themselves how they were going to make it over the hump. They identified simple cues and obvious rewards. When the temptation to give up halfway through the walk appeared, the patient could ignore it because he had crafted self-discipline into a habit.
However, the patients who did not write out any plans were at a significant disadvantage because they never thought ahead about how to deal with painful inflection points. They never deliberately designed willpower habits. Even if they intended to walk around the block, their resolve abandoned them when they confronted the agony of the first few steps. They saw that, like the Scottish patients, their workers were failing when they ran up against inflection points. What they needed were institutional habits that made it easier to muster their self-discipline. They had been thinking about willpower all wrong. Employees with willpower lapses, it turned out, had no difficulty doing their jobs most of the time. On an average day, a willpower-challenged worker was no different from anyone else. However, sometimes, particularly when faced with unexpected stresses or uncertainties, those employees would snap, and their self-control would evaporate.
What employees needed were clear instructions about how to deal with inflection points—something similar to the Scottish patients’ booklets: a routine for employees to follow when their willpower muscles went limp. So the company developed new training materials that spelled out routines for employees to use when they hit rough patches. The manuals taught workers how to respond to specific cues, such as a screaming customer or a long line at a cash register. Managers drilled employees, role-playing with them until the responses became automatic. The company identified specific rewards—a grateful customer, praise from a manager—that employees could look to as evidence of a job well done. Starbucks taught their employees how to handle moments of adversity by giving them willpower habit loops. “When a customer is unhappy, my plan is to … ” “This workbook is for you to imagine unpleasant situations, and write out a plan for responding,” the manager said. “One of the systems we use is called the LATTE method. We Listen to the customer, Acknowledge their complaint, Take action by solving the problem, Thank them, and then Explain why the problem occurred. 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. When the Scottish patients filled out their booklets, or Travis studied the LATTE method; they decided ahead of time how to react to a cue—a painful muscle or an angry customer. When the cue arrived, the routine occurred.
Some people, like Travis, were able to create willpower habits relatively easily. Others, however, struggled, no matter how much training and support they received. What was causing the difference? This has become a standard way to measure willpower—paying attention to a boring sequence of flashing numbers requires a focus akin to working on an impossible puzzle. “When people are asked to do something that takes self-control, if they think they are doing it for personal reasons—if they feel like it is a choice or something they enjoy because it helps someone else—it is much less taxing. If they feel like they have no autonomy, if they are just following orders, their willpower muscles get tired much faster. In both cases, people ignored the cookies. However, when the students were treated like cogs, rather than people, it took a lot more willpower.”
For companies and organizations, this insight has enormous implications. Simply giving employees a sense of agency—a feeling that they are in control, that they have genuine decision-making authority—can radically increase how much energy and focus they bring to their jobs. Giving employees a sense of control improved how much self-discipline they brought to their jobs.

16. How social movements happen? – Peer pressure, Weak ties, and Self-propelling.
Parks’s experiences offer a lesson in the power of social habits—the behaviors that occur, unthinkingly, across dozens or hundreds or thousands of people who are often hard to see as they emerge, but which contain a power that can change the world. Social habits are what fill streets with protesters who may not know one another, who might be marching for different reasons, but who are all moving in the same direction. Social habits are why some initiatives become world-changing movements while others fail to ignite. Moreover, the reason social habits have such influence is because at the root of many movements—be they large-scale revolutions or simple fluctuations in the churches people attend—is a three-part process that historians and sociologists say shows up again and again. A movement starts because of the social habits of friendship and the strong ties between close acquaintances. It grows because of the habits of a community, and the weak ties that hold neighborhoods and clans together. Moreover, it endures because a movement’s leaders give participants new habits that create a fresh sense of identity and a feeling of ownership. Usually, only when all three parts of this process are fulfilled can a movement become self-propelling and reach a critical mass. There are other recipes for successful social change and hundreds of details that differ between eras and struggles. In general, sociologists say, most of us have friends who are like us. We might have a few close acquaintances who are richer, a few who are poorer, and a few of different races—but, on the whole, our deepest relationships tend to be with people who look like us, earn about the same amount of money, and come from similar backgrounds.
Which is why the second aspect of the social habits of movements is so important. The Montgomery bus boycott became a society-wide action because the sense of obligation that held the black community together was activated soon after Parks’s friends started spreading the word. People who hardly knew Rosa Parks decided to participate because of a social peer pressure—an influence known as “the power of weak ties”—that made it difficult to avoid joining in.
How much of your reputation and energy, in other words, are you willing to expend to help a friend of a friend get a job? More surprising, however, was how often job hunters also received help from casual acquaintances—friends of friends—people who were neither strangers nor close pals. In fact, in landing a job, Granovetter discovered, weak-tie acquaintances were often more important than strong-tie friends because weak ties give us weak ties, rather than from close friends, which makes sense because we talk to our closest friends all the time, or work alongside them or read the same blogs. By the time they have heard about a new opportunity, we probably know about it, as well. On the other hand, our weak-tie acquaintances—the people we bump into every six months—are the ones who tell us about jobs we would otherwise never hear about.
When sociologists have examined how opinions move through communities, how gossip spreads or political movements start, they’ve discovered a common pattern: Our weak-tie acquaintances are often as influential—if not more—than our close-tie friends. As Granovetter wrote, “Individuals with few weak ties will be deprived of information from distant parts of the social system and will be confined to the provincial news and views of their close friends. This deprivation will not only insulate them from the latest ideas and fashions but may put them in a disadvantaged position in the labor market, where advancement can depend … on knowing about appropriate job openings at just the right time. “Furthermore, such individuals may be difficult to organize or integrate into political movements of any kind…. While members of one or two cliques may be efficiently recruited, the problem is that, without weak ties, any momentum generated in this way does not spread beyond the clique. As a result, most of the population will be untouched.”
So there is a tool that activists have long relied upon to compel protest, even when a group of people does not necessarily want to participate. It is a form of persuasion that has been remarkably effective over hundreds of years. It is the sense of obligation that neighborhoods or communities place upon themselves. In other words, peer pressure.
The habits of peer pressure, however, have something in common. They often spread through weak ties. Moreover, they gain their authority through communal expectations. If you ignore the social obligations of your neighborhood, if you shrug off the expected patterns of your community, you risk losing your social standing. You endanger your access to many of the social benefits that come from joining the country club, the alumni association, or the church in the first place.
On a playground, peer pressure is dangerous. In adult life, it’s how business gets done and communities self-organize. Such peer pressure, on its own, isn’t enough to sustain a movement. But when the strong ties of friendship and the weak ties of peer pressure merge, they create incredible momentum. That’s when widespread social change can begin.
This is the third aspect of how social habits drive movements: For an idea to grow beyond a community, it must become self-propelling. Moreover, the surest way to achieve that is to give people new habits that help them figure out where to go on their own. Movements do not emerge because everyone suddenly decides to face the same direction at once. They rely on social patterns that begin as the habits of friendship, grow through the habits of communities, and are sustained by new habits that change participants’ sense of self.

17. Why is it important to be aware of our habits? Using examples such as sleepwalking, gambling, murders, and rapes, the author illustrates this aspect.
“Sleepwalking is a reminder that wake and sleep are not mutually exclusive,” Mark Mahowald, a professor of neurology at the University of Minnesota and a pioneer in understanding sleep behaviors, told me. “The part of your brain that monitors your behavior is asleep, but the parts capable of very complex activities are awake. The problem is that there’s nothing guiding the brain except for basic patterns, your most basic habits. You follow what exists in your head, because you are not capable of making a choice.”
Thomas wasn’t the first person to argue that he had committed a crime while sleeping and thus, by extension, should not be held responsible for his deed. There’s a long history of wrongdoers contending they are not culpable due to “automatism,” as sleepwalking and other unconscious behaviors are known. Moreover, in the past decade, as our understanding of the neurology of habits and free will has become more sophisticated, those defenses have become more compelling. Society, as embodied by our courts and juries, has agreed that some habits are so powerful that they overwhelm our capacity to make choices, and thus we are not responsible for what we do.
Sleepwalking is an odd outgrowth of a normal aspect of how our brains work while we slumber. Most of the time, as our bodies move in and out of different phases of rest, our most primitive neurological structure—the brain stem—paralyzes our limbs and nervous system, allowing our brains to experience dreams without our bodies moving. Usually, people can make the transition in and out of paralysis multiple times each night without any problems. Within neurology, it is known as the “switch.” Some people’s brains, though, experience switching errors. They go into incomplete paralysis as they sleep, and their bodies are active while they dream or pass between sleep phases. This is the cause of sleepwalking and for the majority of sufferers, it is an annoying but benign problem. Sleepwalkers can behave in complex ways—for instance, they can open their eyes, see, move around, and drive a car or cook a meal—all while essentially unconscious, because the parts of their brain associated with seeing, walking, driving, and cooking can function while they are asleep without input from the brain’s more advanced regions, such as the prefrontal cortex. However, in general, sleepwalkers will not do things that are dangerous to themselves or others. Even asleep, there’s an instinct to avoid peril.
However, as scientists have examined the brains of sleepwalkers, they’ve found a distinction between sleepwalking—in which people might leave their beds and start acting out their dreams or other mild impulses—and something called sleep terrors.9.8 When a sleep terror occurs, the activity inside people’s brains is markedly different from when they are awake, semi-conscious, or even sleepwalking. People in the midst of sleep terrors seem to be in the grip of terrible anxieties, but are not dreaming in the normal sense of the word. Their brains shut down except for the most primitive neurological regions, which include what are known as “central pattern generators.” These areas of the brain are the same ones studied by Dr. Larry Squire and the scientists at MIT, who found the neurological machinery of the habit loop. To a neurologist, in fact, a brain experiencing a sleep terror looks very similar to a brain following a habit. The behaviors of people in the grip of sleep terrors are habits, though of the most primal kind. The “central pattern generators” at work during a sleep terror are where such behavioral patterns as walking, breathing, flinching from a loud noise, or fighting an attacker come from. We don’t usually think about these behaviors as habits, but that’s what they are: automatic behaviors so ingrained in our neurology that, studies show, they can occur with almost no input from the higher regions of the brain.
However, these habits, when they occur during sleep terrors, are different in one critical respect: Because sleep deactivates the prefrontal cortex and other high cognition areas when a sleep terror habit is triggered, there is no possibility of conscious intervention. If the fight-or-flight habit is cued by a sleep terror, there is no chance that someone can override it through logic or reason. “People with sleep terrors are not dreaming in the normal sense,” said Mahowald, the neurologist. “There’re no complex plots like you, and I remember from a nightmare. If they remember anything afterward, it is just an image or emotions—impending doom, horrible fear, the need to defend themselves or someone else. “Those emotions are powerful, however. They are some of the most basic cues for all kinds of behaviors we’ve learned throughout our lives. Responding to a threat by running away or defending ourselves is something everyone has practiced since they were babies. Moreover, when those emotions occur, and there’s no chance for the higher brain to put things in context, we react the way our deepest habits tell us to.9.9 We run or fight or follow whatever behavioral pattern is easiest for our brains to latch on to.” When someone in the midst of a sleep terror starts feeling threatened or sexually aroused—two of the most common sleep terror experiences—they react by following the habits associated with those stimuli. Sleepwalking seems to allow some choice, some participation by our higher brains that tell us to stay away from the edge of the roof. Someone in the grip of a sleep terror, however, simply follows the habit loop no matter where it leads.
Some scientists suspect sleep terrors might be genetic; others say diseases such as Parkinson’s make them more likely. Their causes are not well understood, but for some people, sleep terrors involve violent impulses. “Violence related to sleep terrors appears to be a reaction to a concrete, frightening image that the individual can subsequently describe,” a group of Swiss researchers wrote in 2009. Among people suffering one type of sleep dysfunction, “attempted assault of sleep partners has been reported to occur in 64% of cases, with injuries in 3%.” More than 150 murderers and rapists have escaped punishment in the past century using the automatism defense. Judges and juries, acting on behalf of society, have said that since the criminals did not choose to commit their crimes—since they did not consciously participate in the violence—they should not bear the blame.
What does that tell us about the ethics of habit and choice? Harrah’s Entertainment—the company that owned the casino—was known within the gaming industry for the sophistication of its customer-tracking systems. At the core of that system were computer programs much like those Andrew Pole created at Target, predictive algorithms that studied gamblers’ habits and tried to figure out how to persuade them to spend more. The company assigned players a “predicted lifetime value,” and software built calendars that anticipated how often they would visit and how much they would spend. The company tracked customers through loyalty cards and mailed out coupons for free meals and cash vouchers; telemarketers called people at home to ask where they had been. Casino employees were trained to encourage visitors to discuss their lives, in the hopes they might reveal information that could be used to predict how much they had to gamble with. One Harrah’s executive called this approach “Pavlovian marketing.” The company ran thousands of tests each year to perfect their methods.9.20 Customer tracking had increased the company’s profits by billions of dollars and was so precise they could track a gambler’s spending to the cent and minute.
Two groups saw the same event, but from a neurological perspective, they viewed it differently. People with gambling problems got a mental high from the near misses—which, Habib hypothesizes, is probably why they gamble for so much longer than everyone else: because the near miss triggers those habits that prompt them to put down another bet. The nonproblem gamblers, when they saw a near miss, got a dose of apprehension that triggered a different habit, the one that says I should quit before it gets worse.
It is unclear if problem gamblers’ brains are different because they are born that way or if sustained exposure to slot machines, online poker, and casinos can change how the brain functions. What is clear is that real neurological differences impact how pathological gamblers process information—which helps explain why Angie Bachmann lost control every time she walked into a casino. Gaming companies are well aware of this tendency, of course, which is why in the past decades, slot machines have been reprogrammed to deliver a more constant supply of near wins.3 Gamblers who keep betting after near wins are what make casinos, racetracks, and state lotteries so profitable. “Adding a near miss to a lottery is like pouring jet fuel on a fire,” said a state lottery consultant who spoke to me on the condition of anonymity. “You want to know why sales have exploded? Every other scratch-off ticket is designed to make you feel like you almost won.” The areas of the brain that Habib scrutinized in his experiment—the basal ganglia and the brain stem—are the same regions where habits reside (as well as where behaviors related to sleep terrors start).
“In those cases, we can definitively say that patients have no control over their obsessions because we can point to a drug that impacts their neurochemistry,” said Habib. “But when we look at the brains of people who are obsessive gamblers, they look very similar—except they cannot blame it on medication. They tell researchers they do not want to gamble, but they cannot resist the cravings. So why do we say that those gamblers are in control of their actions and the Parkinson’s patients are not?”
Brian Thomas murdered his wife. Angie Bachmann squandered her inheritance. Is there a difference in how society should assign responsibility? “Historically, in neuroscience, we’ve said that people with brain damage lose some of their free will,” said Habib. “But when a pathological gambler sees a casino, it seems very similar. It seems like they are acting without choice.” The justices, acting on behalf of society, said Bachmann was wrong.
“There is no common law duty obligating a casino operator to refrain from attempting to entice or contact Gamblers that it knows or should know are compulsive gamblers,” the court wrote. The state had a “voluntary exclusion program” in which any person could ask for their name to be placed upon a list that required casinos to bar them from playing, and “the existence of the voluntary exclusion program suggests the legislature intended pathological gamblers to take personal responsibility to prevent and protect themselves against compulsive gambling,” wrote Justice Robert Rucker.
Perhaps the difference in outcomes for Thomas and Bachmann is fair. After all, it is easier to sympathize with a devastated widower than a housewife who threw everything away. Why is it easier, however? Why does it seem the bereaved husband is a victim while the bankrupt gambler got her just deserts? Why do some habits seem like they should be so easy to control while others seem out of reach? More important, is it right to make a distinction in the first place?
“Some thinkers,” Aristotle wrote in Nicomachean Ethics, “hold that it
is by nature that people become good, others that it is by habit and others that it is by instruction.” For Aristotle, habits reigned supreme. The behaviors that occur unthinkingly are the evidence of our truest selves, he said. So “just as a piece of land has 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.” Habits are not as simple as they appear. As I’ve tried to demonstrate throughout this book, habits—even once they are rooted in our minds—aren’t destiny. We can choose our habits once we know how. Everything we know about habits, from neurologists studying amnesiacs and organizational experts remaking companies, is that any of them can be changed if you understand how they function.
However, every habit, no matters its complexity, is malleable. The most addicted alcoholics can become sober. The most dysfunctional companies can transform themselves. A high school dropout can become a successful manager. 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 it—and every chapter in this book is devoted to illustrating a different aspect of why that control is real. It is just that Angie Bachmann should be held accountable and that Brian Thomas should go free because Thomas never knew the patterns that drove him to kill existed in the first place—much less that he could master them. Bachmann, on the other hand, was aware of her habits. Moreover, once you know a habit exists, you have the responsibility to change it. If she had tried a bit harder, perhaps she could have reined them in. Others have done so, even in the face of greater temptations. That, in some ways, is the point of this book. Perhaps a sleepwalking murderer can plausibly argue he was not aware of his habit, and so he does not bear responsibility for his crime. However, almost all the other patterns that exist in most people’s lives—how we eat and sleep and talk to our kids, how we unthinkingly spend our time, attention, and money—those are habits that we know exist. Moreover, once you understand that habits can change, you have the freedom—and the responsibility—to remake them. Once you understand that habits can be rebuilt, the power of habit becomes easier to grasp, and the only option left is to get to work. “

18. What are the frameworks/analogies to create habits that we can sustain in the long-term?
“All our life,” William James told us in the prologue, “so far as it has definite form, is but a mass of habits—practical, emotional, and intellectual—systematically organized for our weal or woe, and bearing us irresistibly toward our destiny, whatever the latter may be.” Later, he would famously write that the will to believe is the most important ingredient in creating belief in change. Moreover, that one of the most important methods for creating that belief was habits. Habits, he noted, are what allow us to “do a thing with difficulty the first time, but soon do it more and more easily, and finally, with sufficient practice, do it semi-mechanically, or with hardly any consciousness at all.” Once we choose whom we want to be, people grow “to the way in which they have been exercised, just as a sheet of paper or coat, once creased or folded, tends to fall forever afterward into the same identical folds.” 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. Once that choice occurs—and becomes automatic—it is not only real, it starts to seem inevitable, the thing, as James wrote, that bears “us irresistibly toward our destiny, whatever the latter may be.”
The way we habitually think of our surroundings and ourselves create the worlds that each of us inhabits. The water is habits, the unthinking choices and invisible decisions that surround us every day—and which, just by looking at them, become visible again. Water, he said, is the aptest 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.”You now know how to redirect that path. You now have the power to swim. No matter how strong our willpower, we are guaranteed to fall back into our old ways once in a while. However, if we plan for those relapses—if we take steps to make sure those slips do not become a habit—it is easier to get back on track.
The great thing about meditation is that once you train your brain to do it—once you get into the groove—you can do it anywhere. If you are standing in line or suddenly feel stressed—the times I would normally crave a cigarette—you can close your eyes and take a moment to breathe, and you can feel yourself calm down. Studies suggest that this process of experimentation—and failure—is critical in long-term habit change. Smokers often quit and then start smoking again as many as seven times before giving up cigarettes for good. It is tempting to see those relapses as failures, but what’s occurring are experiments. Every habit abides by a set of rules, and when you understand those codes, you gain influence over them. Any habit can be changed.
THE FRAMEWORK: • Identify the routine • Experiment with rewards • Isolate the cue • Have a plan.”