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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Kosovo land swap could end conflict - or restart war

Best case: redrawing borders leads to peace, prosperity and EU membership. But there's also a worst case

Image: SRF
Strange Maps
  • The Yugoslav Wars started in 1991, but never really ended
  • Kosovo and Serbia are still enemies, and they're getting worse
  • A proposed land swap could create peace - or reignite the conflict

The death of Old Yugoslavia

Image: public domain

United Yugoslavia on a CIA map from 1990.

Wars are harder to finish than to start. Take for instance the Yugoslav Wars, which raged through most of the 1990s.

The first shot was fired at 2.30 pm on June 27th, 1991, when an officer in the Yugoslav People's Army took aim at Slovenian separatists. When the YPA retreated on July 7th, Slovenia was the first of Yugoslavia's republics to have won its independence.

After the wars

Image: Ijanderson977, CC BY-SA 3.0 / Wikimedia Commons

Map of former Yugoslavia in 2008, when Kosovo declared its independence. The geopolitical situation remains the same today.

The Ten-Day War cost less than 100 casualties. The other wars – in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo (1) – lasted much longer and were a lot bloodier. By early 1999, when NATO had forced Serbia to concede defeat in Kosovo, close to 140,000 people had been killed and four million civilians displaced.

So when was the last shot fired? Perhaps it wasn't: it's debatable whether the Yugoslav Wars are actually over. That's because Kosovo is a special case. Although inhabited by an overwhelming ethnic-Albanian majority, Serbians are historically very attached to it. More importantly, from a legalistic point of view: Kosovo was never a separate republic within Yugoslavia but rather a (nominally) autonomous province within Serbia.

Kosovo divides the world

Image: public domain

In red: states that recognise the independence of Kosovo (most EU member states – with the notable exceptions of Spain, Greece, Romania and Slovakia; and the U.S., Japan, Turkey and Egypt, among many others). In blue: states that recognise Serbia's sovereignty over Kosovo (most notably Russia and China, but also other major countries such as India, Brazil, Mexico, South Africa and Iran).

The government of Serbia has made its peace and established diplomatic relations with all other former Yugoslav countries, but not with Kosovo. In Serbian eyes, Kosovo's declaration of independence in 2008 was a unilateral and therefore legally invalid change of state borders. Belgrade officially still considers Kosovo a 'renegade province', and it actually has a lot of international support for that position (2).

The irony is that on the longer term, both Kosovo and Serbia want the same thing: EU membership. Ironically, that wish could lead to Yugoslav reunification some years down the road – within the EU. Slovenia and Croatia have already joined, and all other ex-Yugoslav states would like to follow their example. Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia have already submitted an official application. The EU considers Bosnia and Kosovo 'potential candidates'.

Kosovo is the main stumbling block on Serbia's road to EU membership. Even after the end of hostilities, skirmishes continued, between the ethnically Albanian majority and the ethnically Serbian minority within Kosovo, and vice versa in Serbian territories directly adjacent. Tensions are dormant at best. A renewed outbreak of armed conflict is not unthinkable.

Land for peace?

Image: BBC

Mitrovica isn't the only area majority-Serb area in Kosovo, but the others are enclaved and fear being abandoned in a land swap.

In fact, relations between Kosovo and Serbia have deteriorated spectacularly in the past few months. At the end of November, Kosovo was refused membership of Interpol, mainly on the insistence of Serbia. In retaliation, Kosovo imposed a 100% tariff on all imports from Serbia. After which Serbia's prime minister Ana Brnabic refused to exclude her country's "option" to intervene militarily in Kosovo. Upon which Kosovo's government decided to start setting up its own army – despite its prohibition to do so as one of the conditions of its continued NATO-protected independence.

The protracted death of Yugoslavia will be over only when this conflict is finally resolved. The best way to do that, politicians on both sides have suggested, is for the borders reflect the ethnic makeup of the frontier between Kosovo and Serbia.

The biggest and most obvious pieces of the puzzle are the Serbian-majority district of Mitrovica in northern Kosovo, and the Albanian-majority Presevo Valley, in southwestern Serbia. That land swap was suggested previous summer by Hashim Thaci and Aleksandar Vucic, presidents of Kosovo and Serbia respectively. Best-case scenario: that would eliminate the main obstacle to mutual recognition, joint EU membership and future prosperity.

If others can do it...

Image: Ruland Kolen

Belgium and the Netherlands recently adjusted out their common border to conform to the straightened Meuse River.

Sceptics and not a few locals warn that there also is a worst-case scenario: the swap could rekindle animosities and restart the war. A deal along those lines would almost certainly exclude six Serbian-majority municipalities enclaved deep within Kosovo. While Serbian Mitrovica, which borders Serbia proper, is home to some 40,000 inhabitants, those enclaves represent a further 80,000 ethnic Serbs – who fear being totally abandoned in a land swap, and eventually forced out of their homes.

Western powers, which sponsored Kosovar independence, are divided over the plan. U.S. officials back the idea, as do some within the EU. But the Germans are against – they are concerned about the plan's potential to fire up regional tensions rather than eliminate them.

In principle, countries consider their borders inviolate and unchanging, but land swaps are not unheard of. Quite recently, Belgium and the Netherlands exchanged territories so their joint border would again match up with the straightened course of the Meuse river (3). But those bits of land were tiny, and uninhabited. And as the past has amply shown, borders carry a lot more weight in the Balkans.

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