The power of habit

The Power of Habit: summary & application – #8 My Experience

Greetings and welcome to the eighth blog post of: My Experience. In this blog series I give insight into how I apply knowledge gained. For more information about this series click here. In this blog post I will describe the most important concepts from the book: The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business (as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases) Additionally I will tell you about my experience with the lessons from this book, specifically how my Zettelkasten process was influenced.


What attracted me to this book in the first place?

Since I started writing for my website Know Act Invest I have been more and more interested in behavior, especially how to change it. I have written multiple posts about this, such as the science behind behavior change, in podcast of the week, but also about early retirement extreme, the philosophy behind the FIRE movement; which requires enormous changes in behavior. This stems from my drive to improve myself, which by definition means changing behavior.

For me the functioning of behavior is a point of interest, since it is critical to understand behavior in order to change it. In my search for various content on this subject I stumbled on this book in a bookstore. It was already on my Goodreads list since it is a popular book on the subject. So I decided to buy it. In this blog post I hope to give you a bit more insight than all the other reviews out there. By showing you my perspective on the book, which includes sharing my experience.

Goal of the book

The goal is to explain how we can change our lives by changing our habits. But also how companies and our social context change our behavior subconsciously. I think the book tells a more honest story, by also looking at the influences on an individual. Where other books only focus on how an individual can change, this book puts habits in a broader context. Which I think is fundamental to understand, because a large part of our habits are influenced by our surroundings, culture and social circle.

The book explains habits by using recurring stories, these tie the book together. They make the research concrete. The stories take us to the 1987 subway fire in London and it’s causes, also effects on safety afterwards. One of the companies in the book is Mac Donald’s, how they make many people return periodically by creating habits. These are just two examples, there are multiple relatable stories. This made the book an easy read, like a novel with a sprinkle of scientific research.

In this blog post

I am not just distilling the most important lessons from The Power of Habit. I will also tell you about my own experience and which steps you can take to change your behavior using habits. This will include the following subjects:

  • Important concepts: The blog post will start of with an overview of the core lessons from the book. Charles divides habits in three levels, it is important to understand these, so you can recognize them and have a high level view of habits. We will also look at the habit loop which explains the components of a habit, keystone habits and how stories with extensive references tie the book together.
  • My experience with The Power of Habit: My personal experience applying The Power of Habit. In this section I will give insight into how I applied the lessons from the book, using Zettelkasten as an example. I will share a visual representation to show the components of my habit, according to the habit loop from the first section. Alongside that there will be steps from the book that you can follow, to develop your own habits.
  • My conclusion on The Power of Habit: My conclusion on the book and a link to the Audio-book which takes 10 hours and 53 minutes to listen to. Personally I read the book, I prefer that because it makes my note taking process easier. Read more about my process here: “Zettelkasten – the ultimate guide” .

Charles Duhigg

The writer of the book, he wrote as a journalist for the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times. After publishing the The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business (as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases) also the writer of:

Important concepts

Why are habits so important?; 40% of our daily behavior is driven by habits. In the book Charles explains that the human brain constantly tries to form habits. The part of the brain that is responsible for recalling patterns and acting on them is the basal ganglia (among other functions). After repeating a sequence of actions multiple times this will form a habit.

Driving a car is an example of habit forming, when you first learn to drive it takes effort and constant attention. Eventually it will become automatic, by taking over these functions it frees brain capacity for other things. When a habit develops the brain stops fully participating in the decision making process. Since habits decide such a big part of our behavior, I think we should take a closer look at the core concepts of the book. We will look at how they are categorized, constructed, what keystone habits are and how the book makes use of references.

The habit loop

Habits consist out of components that form a cycle. As visually represented below, I will also give a short explanation for each part.

The habit loop

Cue: Habits are triggered by cues, this is a hint to what pattern to use. This can be a sound, smell, location, visual, emotional state etc. Mac Donald’s is built on cues: All restaurants look the same, smell the same, personnel acts the same. Small shifts in one of these areas can change behavior.

Routine: The behavior that the cue leads to. If you can replace this component and keep the cue and reward the same you can change a habit. More about this further down.

Reward: This drives you to exhibit your habit. In the example of smoking; the cycle could look like this; the cue is a stressful situation, the routine to smoke, the reward is relaxation. The craving is that for nicotine. The goal is clear, find an alternative that provides relaxation without negative effects on health. It can be hard to discover the reward initially, it requires to ask yourself multiple times why you do something, to get to the core.

Craving: The driving force of the cycle is called craving. In the case of smoking this is nicotine. In the case of toothpaste; fresh taste. Febreze; specific air freshener smell.

Believe: To create lasting behavior change there has to be believe, the capacity to think things get better. Groups can facilitate this believe, therefore suspend disbelief. A community creates believe in ones ability. The potential for change becomes real. This can also be one person, like a close friend.

Three habit levels

Habits are categorized in three levels in the book:

  1. Individual: Our personal habits and how we can change them. More changing personal habits further down in this post in the paragraph: “How to apply ideas from the book yourself”.
  2. Companies: The way companies influence our habits by providing us the right cues and rewards. So we as consumers provide the “right” routine; use the product or service.
  3. Social: The habits of communities. How social movements are created and persist to create social change, making use of weak and strong social ties.

In the book the example of Rosa parks is given, she sparked the social rights movement against public segregation. Social habits can start movements and bring people together. They can divided them in three parts:
– 1. Start: Social habits of friendship and community
– 2. Grows: Because of a sense of community
– 3. Endures: Because the movement gives new habits. Fresh sense of identity.

These three parts are critical for a successful movement.
– Peer pressure is driven by weak ties, someone with a lot of connections within an community is therefore more likely to start a social movement.
– A combination of strong and weak ties propel movements.

Keystone habits

Keystone habits: Identify key priorities and fashioning them into powerful tools. Core behavior that influences other behavior patterns. They can shift, dislodge and remake other habits. An example of this would be the habit of safety within a company; where injuries had to be reported within 24 hours, with a detailed description of what happened.

The injury is the cue, the routine is to report and write an improvement proposal, the reward a safer environment. This has a lot of positive side effects, like better communication, teamwork, social cohesion.

Keystone habits are related to the root cause of an issue. That makes change necessary. To establish them it is important to get to the core of the issue first. By example; Core programs and safety philosophies can act like a suitcase for culture.

Exercise is another keystone habit. They create small wins, creates new structure, can work contagiously in communities.

Small wins: Are a steady application of small advantage. These wins fuel transformative change. They convince that bigger achievements are within reach. They are like miniature experiments that test implicit theories about resistance and opportunity. Finding what works, moments of success can act like mental triggers to form a routine.

Familiar habits

Unconsciously we like familiar habits. An example given in the book: The release of a song that was similar to popular songs of that time. This song only became popular after fitting it in between two already popular songs on the radio playlist.
– Package the new thing in familiarity, so a familiar cue and reward, but a new routine.
– Wrap new products and services in recognizable things. Like packaging or in between songs/branding.

Extensive references

The references in back of the book contain notes with commentary, these contain counter views or additional context for the stories that tie the book together. There are numerous sources with extensive descriptions, this is definitely a strong point, it gives the reader the opportunity to form a more nuanced view about the stories in addition to doing further research.

It is pleasant to have such extensive sources, so you can read more on the underlying subjects. Since the book offers an easy read, but lacks depth in order to make generalizations and keep the story moving forward. An example would be the referenced articles, journals and books about the functioning of social movements. Which give a lot of background information to do further research yourself.

My experience with The Power of Habit

The power of habit gives a framework for us to fit our habits in, compose them and try to adjust them. In this paragraph I will show you how I applied it on Zettelkasten. Also how you can apply ideas from the book yourself.

The Power of Habit and Zettelkasten

Personally I applied the power of habit on my Zettelkasten process. In the visual below you can see the components of the habit. I see this as a keystone habit since it has positive side effects, enriching my slip box which indirectly creates content for this blog.

The habit loop, Zettelkasten

The cue is daily at 20:00, a notification on my phone. During the routine I work on my fleeting notes and make them into permanent notes for at least 15 minutes, this can be notes I made during the day during work or reading the evening prior. The reward is the satisfaction of learning new things. The craving that drives the loop stems from my eagerness to keep learning.

How to apply ideas from the book yourself

In this paragraph I give a summary of the steps in the book, you can take these to change your habits.

Four step process:

  1. Identify the routine
  2. Experiment with rewards
  3. Isolate the cue
  4. Have a plan

Further explanation:

  1. Identify the components that lead to your routine; What triggers the habit, what behavior does it lead to. Personally I can use biting my nails as an example.
  2. To determine the craving that drives the routine; experiment with different routines/rewards. It can help to write down three things that you think about after your routine, to reflect on your feelings and find out what the actual craving is.
  3. The cue that start the routine. Most of them fit in one of these categories; Location, time, emotional state, other people, immediately preceding action
  4. Have a plan to change the routine. After repeating it multiple times it will become automatic.

Zettelkasten the ultimate guide

There is “Zettelkasten – the ultimate guide” here you can find all our zettelkasten content. I made this guide for those who are new to zettelkasten and look for a proper introduction. It also contains links to posts about my experience with applications for zettelkasten, including: Obsidian, Evernote, OneNote, Notion and more.

Zettelkasten the ultimate guide
Click on the picture to open the guide.

My conclusion on The Power of Habit

The Power of Habit gives an unique perspective on habits. An easy to understand framework that can be structurally applied. I have the experience that it can actually help change your behavior. But I will recommend the book for those that want to learn more about habits in general, not specifically for those that want to change theirs. The book is simply more than just a self help book. It can help you understand habits on different levels, recognize their underlying components and act as starting point for further research.

Further reading

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business (as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases)

Charles Duhigg website

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