The Amazing Power of Habits
Any act often repeated soon forms a habit; and habit allowed,
steadily gains in strength. At first it may be but as a spider's
web, easily broken through, but if not resisted it soon binds
us with chains of steel. ~ American theologian Tryon Edwards
How much of what you do is wise? Most of the choices
we make each day feel like well-considered decisions. In
reality, ingrained habits drive us to act.
Research has shown that the average person has approximately
40,000 thoughts per day, but 95% are the same ones experienced
the day before. Other studies support the notion that 40%
of our daily actions are based on habits and routines, not
newly formed decisions.
Our habitswhat we say, eat and do, and how we
organize our thoughts and work routines have an enormous
impact on our health, productivity, financial security and
As someone who works with people to help them improve,
I know this is true. People can be highly motivated to achieve
goals and make changes in their lives, yet be firmly entrenched
In the last two decades, scientists have begun to understand
how habits are formed, how they work and, more importantly,
how we can change them. As
New York Times staff writer Charles Duhigg
reveals in The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do
in Life and Business (Random House, 2012):
What one small habit could you change today that might cascade
into large results?
- Before Pepsodent entered the market in the early
20th century, only 7% of Americans had a tube of toothpaste
in their medicine chests. A decade later, the number
had jumped to 65%, thanks to Claude Hopkins' legendary
advertising campaigns. The toothbrushing habit was firmly
- Procter & Gamble turned a spray called Febreze into
a billion-dollar brand by taking advantage of consumers’
habitual urge to “breathe happy” and eliminate odors.
- Alcoholics Anonymous reforms lives and enables people
to live free from powerful addictions by redirecting
self-destructive habits into constructive routines.
- By changing one small keystone habit (like safety
precautions or tracking in a journal), individuals and
companies can influence everyday routines, leading to
How Habits Are Formed
Habits emerge because the brain is constantly seeking ways
to conserve energy. It looks for a cue that becomes the trigger
for a habitual response.
We are then rewarded with a blast of the pleasure-inducing
neurotransmitter Dopamine. Dopamine plays a major role in
the brain system that is responsible for reward-driven learning.
The process is a three-step physiological loop:
Over time, the habit loop becomes increasingly automatic.
The cue and reward become intertwined until a powerful sense
of anticipation emerges. This explains why habits are so powerful:
They create neurological cravings. Most of the time, these
cravings form so gradually that we’re not even aware they
exist. We’re often blind to their influence.
- A trigger event or cue occurs.
- There’s an automatic response (physical, mental or
- A reward helps the brain decide that this loop is
worth remembering for the future.
Charles Duhigg reveals that all habits are neural connections
formed in the brain.
Habits never really disappear. They’re encoded into the brain’s
structures—a huge advantage because we don’t have to relearn
things we haven’t done in a while, such as riding a bike,
speaking a foreign language or driving to work.
But your brain can’t tell the difference between good and
bad habits. Even after you’ve conquered a bad habit, it’s
always lurking in the back of your mind. One cigarette can
reignite a smoking habit after years of abstinence.
This is why it’s so hard to create new routines. Unless you
deliberately fight an old habit by substituting a new routine,
the pattern will unfold automatically. When you learn how
the habit loop works, you’ll find it easier to take control
of your behaviors.
Habits aren’t destiny. They can be ignored, changed or replaced.
When we learn to create new neurological routines that overpower
old drives and behaviors (thereby taking control of the habit
loop), we can force our bad habits into the background.
Changing your routines and habits isn't easy, but it's certainly
not impossible either. One of the best ways to go about it
is with the help of a coach. In the work I do, there are a
number of ways to make the process of change easier and faster.
Give me a call if you'd like to know more.
The Golden Rule for Changing a Habit
I've been learning a lot about how we use habits and routines
throughout the day from Charles Duhigg Here's what happens
in a habit loop: A cue triggers both a routine and a reward
(i.e., a rush of endorphins or sense of accomplishment from
engaging in a positive habit).
If, for example, youre tired or bored, you may
automatically reach for a snack. Or, if you want to avoid
the calories and improve your overall health, you can choose
to exercise instead. Both solutions relieve boredom and
chemically reward the brain, but one is the smarter option.
To change a habit, identify the underlying craving;
then, reward the brain with a more healthful behavior.
You cannot extinguish a bad habit; you must learn to
modify it. Here's what author Duhigg calls "The Golden
Rule for Changing Habits:"
In the work I do coaching people, I've also found two other
elements are necessary for making changes. Other studies support
my experiences: desire and belief must be present.
- Use the same cue.
- Provide the same physiological or emotional reward.
- Change the routine.
In other words, you must want to change and believe
you can do it. Without desire for change, and without really
believing change is possible, it's an uphill battle to shift
your habits and routines. But with desire and belief, you
can consciously modify a habit loop into new permanent behaviors.
Your degree of desire will influence the amount of persistence
and discipline you apply. This is how people with the personality
trait of "grit" excel. Deliberate practice is
critical. For some people, they will need to stick to their
new routine for at least a monthperhaps even 3 monthsto
create a new habit.
Which habit do you want to change
this week? Need help or coaching? I'd love to hear from you.