In my October 22, 2013, blog, Is the Problem Time Management or Sticking to Your Priorities, I make a case for the latter. I still believe that’s true, but I’d like to expand upon that post. Here are my main takeaways:
- As I’ve reported about other positions/philosophies, Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, bases his conclusions on brain research. (If you’re interested, I’d suggest reading his book.)
- According to Duhigg, a habit is a three-step loop. First, there’s a “cue,” a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there’s the “routine,” which can be physical, mental, or emotional. Finally, there’s a “reward,” which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future.
- Over time, this loop — cue, routine, reward; cue, routine, reward — becomes more and more automatic.
- Problem (the “bad news”): The brain can’t tell the difference between good and bad habits.
- There are some fascinating stories, including how Unilever utilized the three-step loop for Pepsodent and P&G used it for Febreze, and made billions.
- Habits create neurological “cravings.” Most of the time, these cravings emerge so gradually that we’re not aware they exist, so we’re often blind to their influence.
- For example, the chime on a computer or the vibration of a smartphone is a cue that causes us to look at our computer or phone, as we anticipate the message. Can you relate? I’ve turned off all cues on my Surface Pro, and my Apple only vibrates for calls and texts.
- Most people hate to exercise, and for sure hate to run. As a seasoned executive, I actually love to run; my current routine is to run a 10K four times per week. I was running a 10K daily, but my running adviser recommended the University of Oregon Hard/Easy System, so I backed off. Question: What am I trying to prove? Answer: Nothing. But I do crave the endorphins that are released into my body when I run. I can’t get enough.
- I step on a scale to weigh myself every day. I always thought this was a carryover from my high school wrestling days. I crave getting a good result. It’s my reward for proper diet and exercise.
- Most successful executives maintain some type of “to-do” follow-up list. My mentor for over 50 years taught me to keep a to-do list by modeling it for me. At 88, he still maintains several to-do lists.
- Now I’m going to undress. I’ve always loved crossing off finished items on my to-do lists. I bet that action releases some type of hormone or brain response that I crave.
- Although I’ve been a fan of Tony Dungy for years and I’ve read all of his books, I wasn’t aware that he used “habits” as a basis for his very successful coaching methodology.
- The final principle that Duhigg offers is community, and he uses Alcoholics Anonymous as a powerful example of developing good habits supported by a community.
Conclusion: If you desire to establish a good habit, like encouraging your spouse or your business associates, or to change a bad habit, like speaking before you think, I would highly recommend reading The Power of Habit.