Girish Joshi

The Power of Habit

4 min read
A retrospection on the book The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg or How I Tricked my Brain to Develop Reading Habit?

Before reading the book The Power of Habit, I never gave a conscious thought over the effect habits have on our lives, how they are formed, and most importantly how they can be changed?

Our brains are complex machines but fortunately, it’s not Gates (Microsoft) but God who has designed its software. Habits are a mechanism by which our brains can perform trivial tasks without hanging. They reduce the computational overhead and save some brain effort. Remember your brain is lazier than you are and its only goal in life is to keep you alive.

Take for example the simple act of brushing your teeth. The intricate steps involved look simple to your brain because now they have been ingrained as a habit. The entire process now requires so little brain effort that you can actually plan your entire day or rerun the last night’s conversation while brushing your teeth. Try making your little niece brush her teeth once and you’ll understand what I’m saying.

So how are habits formed? Well. Left to its own whims, the brain will try to make almost any routine into a habit, because as I mentioned habits allow our minds to ramp down more often.

Last month while I was at Ahmedabad I started drinking soda every night after dinner. It initially started out as a social activity where we friends would sit to dissipate the fizz but eventually, it became a habit. Now even if there were no friends, my brain required soda. Similar is the story of all social drinkers and those who only smoke when they drink.

An interesting and powerful framework is introduced by the author to understand habits. The Habit Loop.

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This process, of habit, within our brains, is a three-step loop. First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is 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. The cue and reward become intertwined until a powerful sense of anticipation and craving emerges.

When a habit emerges, the brain stops fully participating in decision making. It stops working so hard, or diverts focus to other tasks. So unless you deliberately fight a habit—unless you find new routines—the pattern will unfold automatically.

So how to change habits? Simple. Change the habit loop.

Now let’s understand how I tricked my brain to develop the reading habit? Simple. I employed The Habit Loop. Unknowingly and Retrospectively. It was only due to the newly developed reading habit that I ended up reading the book The Power of Habit that made me understand probably why I was successful.

It started with realizing the need for reading. But to read books you got to have books around you all the time. Something I could never adjust due to my schedule and social circle. I knew I spend a good amount of my time in front of screen consuming random material to fill myself. Last summer when I was home, I would endlessly read answers on Quora. I knew I had an appetite.

From past six months, I was wondering about buying a Kindle (Amazon’s e-Reader). And finally, I did. The cue was ready. Every time I looked at the Kindle it reminded me of the fortune I’ve spent being a student. I started carrying the Kindle to everywhere I went.

To establish the reward for the process I signed in on GoodReads and took a reading challenge. With every book read, I was one step closer. I proclaimed it everywhere that I am into reading now, this developed a sort of social pressure that was always missing. Now I was being judged in my own eyes if I was not reading enough.

And with a stroke cue and reward were in place and reading a 400-page book became the part of an effortless routine. What once seemed daunting was now something I’d long for.

Now I don’t suggest purchasing a Kindle at all. Rather what I point at is identifying and executing cue & reward so that a routine can form. For someone a stained book would do the trick and for someone joining a book club. The habits are a personal part of our lives and must be personally embraced, formed, and kept check off.

A habit can be a curse or a blessing. And only you have the wand to cast it.

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