Creatures of Habit

Charles Duhigg: So I first got interested in habits about a decade ago when I was a reporter in Iraq, and I heard about this Army Major down in a city named Kufa, which is about an hour south of Baghdad.  And I flew down to meet him.  And he had stopped riots from happening by taking kabob sellers out of the plazas.  And I thought this was totally fascinating.  What would happen is, people would get hungry, the crowds would develop and there were no kabob sellers there, so they’d all go home and the riot would never happen.  And I asked him, like, how he knew this because the riots had been a problem in Kufa for a year.  And he said that the military is like this giant habit formation experiment.  That everyone learns how to work in the military by learning how to manipulate their own habits and other people’s habits.  

And that got me super interested, and so when I got back to the U.S., it, you know, I wanted to learn about habit formation and I wanted to learn how to change my habits--lke, I wanted to lose weight and I wanted to be able to exercise easier, and there were all these things in my life that . . . I felt like I was a successful person and I was powerless over changing these patterns.  And so, the more I researched it, the more people told me, this is really a neurology issue. 

There is a woman named Wendy Wood, who did a study when she was at Duke., and she followed around college students to try to figure out how much of their day was decision-making versus how much was habit.  And what she found was that about 45 percent of all the behaviors that someone did in a day was habit.

And this gets to sort of the way that habits work, which is that there’s this thing called the “habit loop.”  There’s three parts to it:  there’s first a cue, which is a trigger for behavior, and then the behavior itself, which we usually refer to as a routine, or scientists refer to it as a routine, and then there’s the reward.  And the reward is actually why the habit happens in the first place, it’s how your brain sort of decides, should I remember this pattern for the future or not?  And the cue and the reward become neurologically intertwined until a sense of craving emerges that drives your behavior.  And this actually explains so much of our lives.  And not only, like, our lives, but also how companies function.  

If you take this framework and sort of apply it and look at the behaviors that you do, for instance, backing your car out of a driveway or why you suddenly feel hungry when you see a donut box on the counter at work but you weren’t hungry five minutes earlier, or why companies function in certain ways, why these dysfunctions emerge within a corporation, you can find these cues and rewards that kind of explain the behaviors.  So, it’s enormously important.  


Directed / Produced by

Jonathan Fowler & Elizabeth Rodd


 

Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, describes the powerful neurological 'habit loops' that underlie much of what people, corporations, and societies do.

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