Author Charles Duhigg has done some fascinating research regarding human habits in his new book, The Power of Habit. He has been attempting to open the public’s eyes regarding how many of our daily actions are simply habits, not actual choices. Due to this fact, he also points out how companies are cashing in on our routines.
A 2006 study determined that more than 40 percent of our actions are habits, not real decisions. That’s a large portion of our lives being governed for us. Duhigg wants people to view their situation and see how they can nurture good habits and lose the bad ones.
Duhigg created a three step process to explain the development of habits. The process is cue, routine, and reward. The process is explained by using Claude Hopkins, the famous ad man for Pepsodent toothpaste as an example. Hopkins helped create a craving that made toothbrushing a habit. The cue was unsettling tooth film, the routine was brushing, and the reward was clean attractive teeth.
Another case study example of how habits are recognized and then effectively changed into good habits is that of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Duhigg points out how the routine of drinking was replaced with meetings and companionship. AA has become one of the world’s most successful habit changing organizations.
But what if the action isn’t recognized as a habit? Until then, the actions continue. Duhigg points out how companies know this about us. They are aware that we have habits and they even cater to them to keep us coming in their doors and spending money. He refers to Starbucks Coffee specifically. Duhigg points out that many people will purchase an overpriced cup of coffee multiple times a day from Starbucks, not because of the coffee necessarily, but because of the customer service sold right along with the drink. Coffee from home is much cheaper and can be just as good but as long as the daily drive-thru is a habit and not a decision, Starbucks is wise to teach their baristas the self-discipline to deal with even the most difficult customers.
The author himself explained how he used his technique to change a habit into a decision. He noticed he was eating cookies every day around 3 PM. After evaluating the situation, Duhigg realized he wasn’t really wanting a cookie, he just wanted to take a break and chat with his co-workers. Duhigg gave up the cookies, but continued to take a break with his peers. As a result of breaking his habit he lost 12 pounds.
If 40 percent of our day is based out of habit, we are slowly becoming robots. We let our days become dictated by things like a cup of coffee served with a smile or a chocolate chip cookie. It seems of great value to step back and evaluate our actions. Furthermore, it seems of greater value to make decisions, not cave to habits.