The greatest challenge is stating the problem in a way that will allow a solution.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

"People rarely succeed unless they have
fun in what they are doing."
- Dale Carnegie

ABOUT:  The Power of Habit

Charles Duhigg is a staff writer at the New York Times and author of the recently published book The Power of Habit about the science of habit formation and its applications among individuals, companies and societies.


"I first became interested in habits about a decade ago, as a reporter in Iraq, when I heard about an army major who had been analyzing videotapes of riots.

The major had recently been assigned to oversee a base near Kufa, about an hour south of Baghdad. To prepare, he had studied footage of the nearby towns shot by drone planes, and had noticed a pattern that often emerged when a crowd turned violent.

Frequently, before a riot erupted, a small crowd of Iraqis would gather in a plaza or other open space and, over the course of several hours, start shouting angry slogans. Spectators would show up. Food vendors would arrive. The angry shouts would get louder. More time would pass. The major showed me one videotape of people milling around a plaza, and pointed out that most of them stuck to an area about the size of a five-foot box. They would talk to neighbors and watch the action, but not move much – except for at dusk, when they would often saunter over to the food vendors, and then walk back to their original spot.

“Now look here,” the major said. The tape was running at high speed, and the tiny people on the screen looked like hyperactive ants. Most of them were relatively still. But not everyone “Watch how far this guy moves.” He pointed to one of the dots on the screen. “Fifteen feet to the left. Eighteen feet to the right. Then up to the edge of the crowd, and back to the middle. That guy’s a troublemaker. If we were watching this live, we’d arrest him as soon as we saw that much movement.”

Indeed, as the tape rolled on, one of those energetic dots picked up a glass bottle and threw it against a wall. Another frantic dot threw a rock. Soon, the spectators were drawn in. Within 15 minutes a full-scale riot was underway. Eventually, everyone on the screen was moving all over the place.
The major had watched this tape and dozens of others before he met with Kufa’s mayor for the first time. At that meeting, the men discussed various items of business. Before leaving, the major asked the mayor for an odd favor: Could the local police keep food vendors out of the plazas?

Sure, the mayor said. No problem.

A few weeks later, a small crowd gathered near the Masjid al-Kufa, or Great Mosque of Kufa. Throughout the afternoon, it grew in size. People started chanting angry slogans. Iraqi police, sensing trouble, radioed the U.S. base and asked troops to stand by. At dusk, the crowd started getting restless. More and more people were shouting. Spectators began looking for the kebab sellers normally filling the plaza, but there were none to be found. It was dinnertime. The crowd was hungry. A handful went home to eat. Others left to find restaurants. By 8 P.M., almost everyone was gone. The riot never happened. In fact, there hadn’t been a riot since the major arrived.

I asked him how he had figured out that removing the food vendors would change peoples’ behavior.

The U.S. military, he explained to me, was one of the biggest habit-formation experiments in history.

 “Understanding habits is the most important thing I’ve learned in the army,” he said. “It’s changed everything about how I see the world. You want to fall asleep fast and wake up feeling good? Pay attention to your nighttime patterns and what you automatically do when you wake up. You want to make running easy? Create triggers to make it a routine.”

The major was a small man from Georgia. He was perpetually spitting either sunflower seeds or tobacco into a cup. He told me that prior to entering the military, his best career option had been repairing telephone lines, or, possibly, becoming a methamphetamine entrepreneur, a path some of his high school peers had chosen to less success. “My wife and I write out habit plans for our marriage,” he said. “This is all we talk about in command meetings. I’m telling you, if a hick like me can learn this stuff, anyone can.”

That’s what this book is about: how anyone can learn this stuff. Changing habits isn’t necessarily quick or easy. But it is possible. And now we know how."

A  young woman walks into a laboratory. Over the past two years, she has transformed almost every aspect of her life. She has quit smoking, run a marathon, and been promoted at work. The patterns inside her brain, neurologists discover, have fundamentally changed.
Marketers at Procter & Gamble study videos of people making their beds. They are desperately trying to figure out how to sell a new product called Febreze, on track to be one of the biggest flops in company history. Suddenly, one of them detects a nearly imperceptible pattern—and with a slight shift in advertising, Febreze goes on to earn a billion dollars a year.
An untested CEO takes over one of the largest companies in America. His first order of business is attacking a single pattern among his employees—how they approach worker safety—and soon the firm, Alcoa, becomes the top performer in the Dow Jones.

What do all these people have in common? They achieved success by focusing on the patterns that shape every aspect of our lives.

They succeeded by transforming habits.

In The Power of Habit, award-winning New York Times business reporter Charles Duhigg takes us to the thrilling edge of scientific discoveries that explain why habits exist and how they can be changed. With penetrating intelligence and an ability to distill vast amounts of information into engrossing narratives, Duhigg brings to life a whole new understanding of human nature and its potential for transformation.

Along the way we learn why some people and companies struggle to change, despite years of trying, while others seem to remake themselves overnight. We visit laboratories where neuroscientists explore how habits work and where, exactly, they reside in our brains.

We discover how the right habits were crucial to the success of Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, and civil-rights hero Martin Luther King, Jr. We go inside Procter & Gamble, Target superstores, Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church, NFL locker rooms, and the nation’s largest hospitals and see how implementing so-called keystone habits can earn billions and mean the difference between failure and success, life and death.

At its core, The Power of Habit contains an exhilarating argument: The key to exercising regularly, losing weight, raising exceptional children, becoming more productive, building revolutionary companies and social movements, and achieving success is understanding how habits work.

Habits aren’t destiny. As Charles Duhigg shows, by harnessing this new science, we can transform our businesses, our communities, and our lives.

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg