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The Power Of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life & Business - C. Duhigg

Updated: Mar 19, 2021

Hello Everyone!

I thought I would have this online Friday but the writing process took a couple extra days lol and I have some good stuff from this!

I like to start every book with an open unbiased conscious with a willingness to simply learn something new. Around 2am on 02/18/2021, I found myself reading one star reviews on books I have and have not read. What the hell was my reasoning behind that? I am not even certain lol, but what I did gain and want to offer here is: those reviews seemed to be (to me), deeply analytical and scholarly criticized. That is not what my posts will feature, however some of the comments in the reviews I can resonate with. I guess those reviews did also give me a much needed and unidentified perspective. One book I read was Originals by Adam Grant, which I thought was okay and may feature here, they bashed that book pretty badly lol, but one point was how frequent and extensive his footnotes are. That shit is ridiculous and some take up half the page. Like the reviewer said "just apply it to the actual text of the book". I may just read one and two star reviews more often now because it may assist in the content I can offer to you all here!

Another keyword search of mine during these hours was "top lists of non-fiction books", stumbled across a few websites that included our feature for the day. Today, we have yet another New York Times Bestseller, from an author who spent time working at the New York Times, where he wrote this book. The Power Of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business by Charles Duhigg was published 9 years ago exactly at the end of this month. I began this book on January 29, 2021 and completed it on February 10, 2021. Two weeks or less seems to be the new finishing time for good books under 300 pages lol. To that very point, the actual book ends at page 274 with the afterword and appendix, through which I read, and stops at page 298. It's a total of nine chapters of some awesome information.

I would suggest everyone read this book. Charles, brings clear cut examples of how we can alternate our habits which in turn reinforces positivity in other facets of our lives. As eluded to in the title, there are examples in everyday life, business, and sports. I believe the casual reader of any age will truly enjoy this book and be enlightened.

Grade: A++

In the prologue, Duhigg begins with a story on a woman that spent years, smoking, drinking and struggling with obesity. Lisa Allen often visited a lab outside of Bethesda, Maryland and was monitored, if you will, by the National Institutes of Health, with dozens of other people sharing her same habits amongst other destructive ones. Her husband cheated and then left her for the other woman, which sent her through some bad times. So, Lisa flew to Egypt, broke, after some sleep in her hotel she woke up discombobulated, lighting a pen she thought was a cigarette and breaking her glass water bottle. This was her last straw, she was ready for a change, so she decided to trek across an unknown Egyptian desert. The first sacrifice to make this journey was to quit smoking. After studying her brain, doctors noticed the old set of neurological patterns (old habits) they previously noted had been overridden by newer patterns. Lisa began jogging instead of smoking, which in turn began to force new patterns in her life like eating healthier, sleeping, saving money and planning. The neurologists, psychologists, geneticists, and sociologists at this site concluded that the Egyptian desert trip or divorce was not the cause in her paradigm shift. Lisa began to focus on just one thing to change first and it was smoking. By focusing on one habit at a time, the scientists coined the term "keystone habit" which initiated the shift in all of Lisa's other habits.

"Habits can be changed if we understand how they work" (XVII) This is the central argument of Duhigg's book. The book begins its first chapter on a 1993 study that began to change the way we understand habits and their correlation with the brain as humans. Eugene Pauly aka E.P., a 71 year old, which they donned him in medical academia, was the first individual that helped advance science and psychology. EP was rushed into the hospital by his wife, to find out he had viral encephalitis, which is a disease caused by a virus that produces cold sores, fever blisters, and mild skin infections. Some rare cases of this viral disease can make its way to the brain and eat away the tissue where our thoughts, dreams, and possibly souls are housed. Unfortunately, for Eugene Pauly this is what ensued.

The virus destroyed the tissue close to his cranium and spinal column. Physically, Eugene responded unexpectedly well and strong however his memory had been severely affected. There were just a few things EP was able to converse about and do for himself. Then, EP met with Larry Squire, a scientist, who studies the neuroanatomy of memory. Larry's specialty was learning how the brain retains events. The studies would indicate that even someone who cannot remember their own age or anything else can develop habits that seem complex -- until you notice that everyone relies on similar neurological processes daily. EP and his wife would begin to take a daily walk around the neighborhood, then he started to do it alone, yet he could not tell you where he lived, never got lost and always took the same route. Squire began to contemplate if EP had new brain patterns emerging. So more tests ensued and scientists pinpoint the basal ganglia, a golf ball sized lump of tissue inside the heads of fish, reptiles, mammals, and us humans. Scientists then tested a hypothesis on rats, they found that the brain activity changes as it repeats the same routine a number of times. The basil ganglia was key to recalling patterns and acting on them. It basically quiets others and just acts on instinct or habit.

"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" (17-18). Of course there is some drawbacks to mental conservation but our basil ganglia has a system that controls when habits should take over. It happens when a chunk of behavior begins or ends and that's the brain's way of deciding when to cede control to a habit, and which one 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" (19). This habit loop is commonly reinforced throughout the text. One nice example in chapter three, for the american football fans, Duhigg referenced Tony Dungy and the years he spent coaching in the NFL. Dungy preached his philosophy to multiple owners during his head coaching interviews, until the Tampa Bay Buccaneers offered him the job. At that time, they were the worst team in the sport, but when they bought into their new coaches plan, success was sure to come.

Dungy noticed when the light bulb flickered in the team during a game where they would erase a deficit to an upset win. His scheme may have been predictable to some, however it became proficient in Tampa. "Dungy has opted for this approach because, in theory, he doesn't need misdirection, He simply needs his team to be faster than everyone else. In football, milliseconds matters. So instead of teaching his players hundreds of formations, he has taught them only a handful, but 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" (64). This system only succeeds when it works and if the players hesitate or think too much, the system begins to fail. One of the things Dungy taught the players to cue on is where the offensive player's, feet, shoulders, and body are positioned before the play. When the play begins, the defender makes a designated attack towards the quarterback to disrupt the play. Next, his teammates will notice the same cues and mark their positions for that routine and outcome. Once the players automatically gained the routine success of Dungy's philosophy they became one of the best teams in the league.

Another intriguing study included the 1987 business model being ushered in by a new regime. The new CEO of the Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa) was being introduced in a Manhattan hotel and his audience featured a number of investors and stock analysts. When a company's board members are in a rift and a new CEO is inevitable, investors get excited about the new opportunities to profit. As soon as Paul O'Neill began his rhetoric, safety in the workplace was his chosen topic. The audience was perplexed because usually at these type of meetings, they get straight to the capitalism topic. O'Neill points the crowd’s attention to the fire exits in the room and they began to think it was a joke. Some people started to ask questions about other divisions of the business but O'Neill doubled down on safety. Through the habits of absolute care and intent of safety in the workplace, compounded with time, it will exude success in all areas of the business.

However, the investors in the crowd at O'Neill's introduction conference, scrambled to tell their network to sell their stocks in Alcoa after the meeting concluded. Within a year of this speech, Alcoa's profit hit a record high. All while growing economically, Alcoa became one of the safest companies on the planet. Prior to O'Neill's arrival, almost every plant in the company had at least one accident per week. "As Alcoa's safety patterns shifted, other aspects of the company started changing with startling speed, as well. Rules that unions had spent decades opposing--such as measuring the productivity of individual workers--were suddenly embraced, because such measurements helped everyone figure out when part of the manufacturing process was getting out of whack, posing a safety risk. Policies that managers had long resisted--such as giving workers autonomy to shut down a production line when the pace became overwhelming--were now welcomed, because that was the best way to stop injuries before they occurred. The company shifted so much that some employees found safety habits spilling into other parts of their lives" (107). I know some people can surely relate to management being opposed to offer autonomy to those below them which can create a toxic environment like in The Lucifer Effect or it can create better habits and work environments!

As a fellow Marylander, I would be remiss not to mention a Michael Phelps story appearing in the book. His habits intrigued me, not to mention his hard work and accomplishments. Phelps's coach in his teenage days knew his potential and what habits to teach him for him to thrive. "He didn't need to control every aspect of Phelps's life. All he needed to do was target a few specific habits that had nothing to do with swimming and everything to do with creating that 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." (111).

Bob Bowman, Phelps's coach, had the young swimmer visualize himself swimming perfectly down to every minute detail and called it "watching the videotape" so Phelps would do this before and after sleeping everyday. During one of his gold medal races in Beijing, his goggles began to fill with water until he was unable to see clearly. Through the habit of "studying the tape" and his other

habitual practices. Phelps was prepared because he had an estimated range of how many strokes it would take to complete his race, without seeing! When he exited the pool he won while setting a world record!

My final example from the book, I think will intrigue women the most. I say this because, it seems fair to say they love Target lol. Duhigg's seventh chapter is aptly titled: How Target Knows What You Want Before You Do. The guy who altered the department of Target that executes predictive analytics is Andrew Pole. He grew up in North Dakota, loving computers, he obtained degrees in statistics and economics. Pole became consumed with the economical pattern analysis that explain human behavior. He spent time working with Hallmark studying data that determined which color ink sold best on a card versus which pictures of animals sold the most.

In 2002, Pole made his way to Target. "Target, he knew, was a whole other magnitude when it came to data collection. Every year, millions of shoppers walked into Target's 1,147 stores and handed over terabytes of information about themselves. Most had no idea they were doing it. They used their customer loyalty cards, redeemed coupons they had received in the mail, or use a credit card, unaware that Target could then link their purchases to an individualized demographic profile" (183). So uh, there you have that lol.

The very next paragraph talks about Target's vast inventory and says: "To a statistician, this data was a magic window for peering into customers' preferences. Target sold everything from groceries to clothing, electronics and lawn furniture, and by closely tracking people's buying habits, the company's analysts could predict what was occurring within their homes. Someone's buying new towels, sheets, silverware, pans, and dinners? They probably just bought a new house---or are getting a divorce. A cart loaded up with bug spray, kids' underwear, a flashlight, lots of batteries, Real Simple, and a bottle of Chardonnay? Summer camp is around the corner and Mom can hardly wait" (183). I feel that's pretty clearly stated as is.

Pole's job at Target was to create mathematical models that would sift through data and determine what households were occupied by bachelors, single mother with kid(s), married family and what they like, in attempts to get them to spend more money. One day, a few colleagues from the marketing department asked Pole if he could identify a pregnant woman through their shopping patterns. "Pregnant women and new parents, after all, are the holy grail of retail. There is almost no more profitable, product-hungry, price-insensitive group in existence. It's not just diapers and wipes. People with infants are so tired that they'll buy everything they need--juice toilet paper, socks and magazines--wherever they purchase their bottles and formula. What's more if a new parent starts shopping at Target, they'll keep coming back for years" (184). Good marketing? No? lol

Due to stiffer competition in the retail marketplace companies are getting more "clever". They began to market to the individual more with personalized pitches to appeal to one customer's buying preferences. "In part, this realization came from a growing awareness of how powerfully habits influence almost every shopping decision. A series of experiments convinced marketers that if they managed to understand a particular shopper's habits, they could get them to buy almost anything" (186). Of course, Target is not the sole business interested in mining this type of data and a lot of other giant corporations do the same. "Target's goal was to start marketing to parents before the baby arrived---which is why Andrew Pole's colleagues approached him that day to ask about building a pregnancy-prediction algorithm. If they could identify expecting mothers as early as their second trimester, they could capture them before anyone else" (193). One quote that assures my reason for women (mothers or not) should read this book.

"With the pregnancy products, though, we learned that some women react badly. Then we started mixing in all these ads for things we knew pregnant women would never buy, so the baby ads looked random. We'd put an ad for a lawnmower next to diapers. We'd put a coupon for wineglasses next to infant clothes. That way, it looked like all the products were chosen by chance" (209). I feel life if anything, this is just good information to be privy to! There was also an instance where Duhigg writes about where a father of a teenager was receives the "mommy to be" coupons. The father took them to the nearest Target to confront management about this. He was angry and confused as to why he would get such mail. Months later, he funds out his daughter is actually pregnant. The father was appalled and sympathetic, so suffice to say:


Thank You Everyone for the support!!!


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2 commenti

Jess Carp
Jess Carp
17 mar 2021

Great Article ! Thanks for sharing. You definitely touch on parts of the book that makes me want to read it. I connected with a few of the references you made. Looking forward to seeing your blog take off!

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thanks so much!!!

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