Lisa Allen was the scientists’ favourite participant. This 34 year old, until a few years ago, was battling obesity, was a chain smoker, neck deep in debt (agents were chasing her to collect debts over $10,000), couldn’t hold onto to a job for more than 3 months and had been dumped by her husband for a younger woman. The woman who sat in front of the scientists, however, had a toned figure to match any athlete, had been clear of debts for more than a year, had pursued a degree, was a designer at a studio for 39 months now and hadn’t smoked a cigarette in years. All this because she changed just 1 habit – she quit smoking.
This incident, related more elaborately, is partly the introduction of one of the best books I’ve read – The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg. This book provides deep insights on how habits are formed in all living beings (even animals), how bad habits can be changed and how merely tweaking single habits led to football teams winning the ultimate prize and organizations turning profitable and efficient. Simple, yet provocative and fascinating!
Charles Duhigg has broken the book down into 3 major sections:
- How Habits Work
- What causes them to be formed
- How we can change them
The book moves at a blistering pace. It’s filled with examples of habit formulation and change amongst people, organizations and even the military. A person who was tormented throughout his life couldn’t keep calm. But he went on to become a manager of 3 stores at Starbucks. An alcoholic (who lost his wife and children because of the habit) went on to launch Alcoholics Anonymous. A football coach turned the worst team in American football history around by changing one habit, and Paul O’Neill, CEO of Alcoa, made his company the most profitable one by tweaking just one habit.
Habit is formed in a one loop: Cue -> Action -> Reward. Once we keep performing an action repeatedly, it gets rooted in our basal ganglia – the part of the brain which forms habits. That’s why we can drive without constantly processing information; we brush our teeth while we think of how the day’s going to be and so on. Military personnel keep practising actions to the point of them becoming habits. And the brain is always looking to delegate. Hence, once an action is formed, the basal ganglia take over. Else the brain would shut down with too much of information overload. This also explains why people suffering from amnesia don’t forget how to eat or drive. Jason Bourne was immaculate at what he did despite suffering from memory loss.
There is nothing I don’t like about this book. For people who have read Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point and Blink, this book enables a deeper understanding of concepts discussed there. Yes, some examples from those books have been used in this one too.
I could go on and on praising The Power of Habit. I’ve waited 1 ½ years to read this book (it was too expensive for me initially), but the wait was worth it. You must read this book. It will help you understand how your habits are formed; how you can dump bad habits for good ones. It will make you efficient, a better leader and a better human.
image courtesy: Google Images
image courtesy: Google Images