Habits aren’t destiny.

What do Mandy the nail-biter, John the alcoholic, Angie the gambler, a Baptist pastor, an NFL coach, an Olympic swimmer, Procter & Gamble, Target, Starbucks, you and me all have in common?

Habits.


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Habits aren’t destiny.

What do Mandy the nail-biter, John the alcoholic, Angie the gambler, a Baptist pastor, an NFL coach, an Olympic swimmer, Procter & Gamble, Target, Starbucks, you and me all have in common?

Habits.

We all have them. Good ones, bad ones, silly ones. Constructive ones. Destructive ones.  Ones we’re aware of, others we do automatically. There are habits we’d love to form—exercising regularly, losing weight, being  more organized--and others we’d give anything to break—smoking, drinking, gambling.

Some habits we’ve had forever. Brushing our teeth, looking both ways before crossing the street, drinking coffee instead of tea. Others are new. Wearing seat belts, recycling, appointing a designated driver.

We think we’re in control of habits, but just as often, they’re in control of us. Researchers have determined that 40% of our actions are not based on decisions, but habits. Why else would we eat at the same restaurant, sit at the same table, and order the same food?

As important as habits are, we actually know so little about them. That is changing. There’s been a flood of research over the past several years.  This research is at the heart of “The Power of Habit.”

In the book, Duhigg explains how habits work in people, organizations and society. Remarkably, habits are basically the same in all three. The same underlying processes are at work whether it’s you always putting your left shoe on before your right or your Starbucks barista greeting you by name or Rick Warren building a mega church.

Basically, a habit is nothing more than a trigger that leads to an action that gives a payoff. Your mouth feels dirty, you brush your teeth, your mouth feels “minty fresh.” You feel anxious, you take a drink, you feel less anxious. Your computer dings, you check your email, you’re having a break from work.

Successful people have learned to use habits to reach their goals. NFL football coach Tony Dungy taught his players that if they wanted to win they needed to practice certain plays until they became so automatic they could execute them without thinking. In other words, until they became habits.

Corporations manipulate consumers to form the habit to buy their product. Take Febreze.  Procter & Gamble originally sold it as a spray that would remove bad odors.  Turns out, no one thought their house had any bad odors. It wasn’t until P&G added perfume and sold Febreze as the “fun part” of cleaning, the little spritz at the end of making the bed or vacuuming the living room that made the room smell nice, that housewives formed the Febreze habit.  

By employing the exercises Duhigg recommends, you and I can use the power of habits to make our lives healthier, happier and more successful.  

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