Sketchnotes of Charles Duhigg's The Power of Habit

10 Things I Learned About The Power of Habit

Sketchnotes of Charles Duhigg's The Power of Habit

Sketchnotes: The ideas that stuck out to me as I read The Power of Habit

I am constantly on the hunt for productivity hacks. A disproportionate number of my books are of the self improvement variety. I have grand ideas and visions of all the things I want to accomplish or change or do better. But there is one key that drives the changes I hope for–the habit. In the book, The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg demystifies how habits are formed, changed, and maintained. Duhigg explains the neuroscience and logistics behind the successful creation of habits through fascinating stories of human change at the personal, organizational, and societal levels. Here are 10 things I am Learning about The Power of Habit from Duhigg in addition to my own experiments and observations:

1. Habits are not as simple as they appear.

Making changes would be much easier if we could just decide to modify a habit and our brain played along with our request. Deciding to change a habit is only the first step. It takes more than intention and willpower to rewire our brains when it comes to habits. Quote: You cannot extinguish a bad habit

2. You can’t extinguish a bad habit, you can only change it.

I’m sure all of us have had a New Year’s resolution to stop doing ______. How did that work out for you? Now, at least we can understand why it is so hard. When a new habit forms, the brain stops participating in the decision making process. So, while habits are not our destiny, we do have to actively fight them. Since our brain can’t distinguish between good and bad habits we must play an active role in keeping and developing the good and uprooting the bad. Quote: You can only change it

3. The Habit Loop:

Simply understanding the three step process for how our brain deals with and forms habits makes them easier to control.

  • Cue: a trigger sending our brains into automatic mode and telling which habit to use
  • Routine: the behavior, the habit
  • Reward: helps brain know if the habit is worth remembering

To me these make the most sense in scenarios. One of my favorites from The Power of Habit was the story of Claude Hopkins and how he improved the dental hygiene of the nation (or at least normalized the use of toothpaste) with his Pepsodent habit loop. The cue was the dingy film on people’s teeth, which triggered the habit–routine of brushing teeth–and resulted in the reward of the tingling sensation customers associated with their clean teeth.

4. Habits are powerful but delicate.

Duhigg explains this best:

“Habits are powerful, but delicate. They can emerge outside our consciousness, or can be deliberately designed. They often occur without our permission, but can be reshaped by fiddling with their parts. 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.”

We cannot assume people, including ourselves, will be rational in their actions. In fact Dan Ariely highlights stories and research cases where the exact opposite is true in his book, Predictably Irrational.

5. Keystone habits have the power to transform everything.

For many this is a habit, like exercise, not only led to other related positive habits, such as eating healthy, but also things like charging less on credit cards. The keystone habit is like the first domino in a pattern of changes. Based on my own habit conquering quest, I think keystone habits are powerful because once you start to see changes you realize it really works. Change really is possible and that is empowering. Quote: Willpower isn't just a skill. It is a muscle.

6. Willpower isn’t just a skill. It’s a muscle and it gets tired.

Willpower is a finite resource. This is a key to why morning routines matter so much. Don’t waste your creative juices and willpower on email or other mundane tasks. The limits of willpower also helps explain why reverting to negative habits often occurs when people are under the influence of something or tired. Keep your willpower tank in check and full, especially when you know you will need it.

7. Champions don’t do extraordinary things. They do ordinary things without thinking.

Michael Phelps visualized swimming the perfect race so habitually that winning became a natural extension of his preparation. Tony Dungy built habits so ingrained in his players that they became truly automatic. Players on the other teams couldn’t keep up because they had to think as the ball was snapped, something Dungy’s players were able to bypass once the habit had taken over. I remember a similar point made in Malcolm Gladwell’s, Blink, where seasoned firefighters saved their teams by getting out of situations moments before it would have become deadly. When asked how they knew the circumstances were about to turn, the veteran leaders weren’t even able to pinpoint it themselves–their brains automatically reacted based on experience and habit.

8. Identity and ownership can convert people from followers to self directed leaders.

When it comes to societal change, leaders must “give participants new habits that create a fresh sense of identity and a feeling of ownership.” I see this one at play a lot–classrooms, boardrooms, dining rooms. When leaders are able to nurture the agency of the participants and empower them to take on the cause personally, it becomes sustainable to support the cause on the front lines.

9. Small wins have enormous power.

Each time you respond to the cue with your desired routine you get closer to creating your habit. Eventually your brain doesn’t even have to work to “decide” to respond with the routine at all–you just tie your shoes and go for a run, or floss your teeth, or choose the apple, or read instead of watch TV.

10. There is nothing you can’t do if you get the habits right.

I think this one speaks for itself.

Picture of a Path with Text "The 20 Mile March"

The 20 Mile March Part I

Picture of a Path with Text "The 20 Mile March"

Great By Choice

Great by Choice, by Jim Collins, delves into the question: What does it take for a company to thrive in times of uncertainty and chaos? The book got me thinking about a lot of things (he is good at that). One key concept Collins introduced continues to gnaw at me, even months later. I see it at play seemingly everywhere–the idea of the 20 mile march.

More Than A Philosophy

The 20 mile march is about “fanatic discipline” as Collins refers to it. It is about getting up every day and taking the little, non-exciting, but very necessary, steps towards attainable goals. It is about doing so with fierce consistency and unwavering determination. Collins explains, “the 20 Mile March is more than a philosophy. It is about having concrete, clear, intelligent, and rigorously pursued performance mechanisms that keep you on track.”

Picture of explorers trekking across the snowy mountains.

Amundsen & Scott

One of the stories Collins uses to model the elements of the 20 mile march is that of Roald Amundsen & Robert Falcon Scott and their contrasting journeys in 1910 to be the first to reach the South Pole. Amundsen and his team trekked between 15-20 miles each day no matter the conditions. When Amundsen’s team encouraged him to go further on days when weather was ideal, Amundsen would say no, knowing the importance of rest and recuperation for the team and the overall journey. In contrast, Scott pushed his team to the brink of exhaustion (and eventually over the edge) going farther on days when conditions were good and wallowing in his tent on stormy days, complaining in his journal about their misfortunes. The story details and comparison are quite incredible. If you want to read more, here are a couple places suggested to me by others:

Canva Graphic The secret is. There is no secret. Do it.

20 Miles Not Just For Business

As I read about Amundsen & Scott, I kept thinking about all the ways the story applied, not only to the business world, but to my pursuit of goals in edtech, education, writing, learning, exercising, eating well, relationships, and a whole bunch of other stuff. In each case I was still searching for an easy button, a shortcut, the secret–to make it all work. Well, here is the secret–there is no secret. All those things we seek to improve, from our classroom culture and technology integration practices to our exercise consistency and depth of relationships, they are all going to take a commitment to 20 mile marching. Things that are worthwhile take a while.

The Next Questions

Once I came to terms with the myth of the shortcut, the next logical question became: How could I plan and execute a 20 mile march to make it to my equivalent of the South Pole(s)? And secondly: How could I help educators make it to their South Pole(s)? Lucky for me, Collins specifically outlines 7 elements to the 20 mile march that I found strikingly applicable to educational goals. I think this post is long enough for now… so, I’ll going to stop here and pick up next time with the 7 elements.