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Thursday, December 20, 2012

Change Your Habits , Change Your Life

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and BusinessThe Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Habits are things that can raise us up to the pinnacle of heaven or plunge us to the depths of misery. The author examines the habit loop and gives a thorough analysis of how it impacts our life and how we can use this influence to make positive changes. Thorough research was done in the writing of this book. Companies like Starbucks, Febreze, Pepsodent and and Alcoa were looked at as models of success and how the habit loop works. They also make for very entertaining reading on what might be a very dry subject.

The part of the brain responsible for habits is the basal ganglia, not memory. The habit loop itself is a circular model that starts with a cue,then proceeds with a routine and then finishes with a reward. To create positive habits and /or eradicate new habits one must tweak the elements of the habit loop. The most effective habit changes involve modifying the routine part of the habit loop. In a sense you are already modifying a current habit. So to start a new habit you need to get in a new routine. Before the advent of Pepsodent, people really did not brush their teeth. Yeah that meant bad breath and a film over your teeth. Gross and yuck and yeah the nation suffered from poor hygiene. To sell toothpaste though you needed a new habit and yeah this one caught on. The reward part was manipulated here and thee reward was white teeth (which could be obtained by eating an apple) and that sharps sparkling taste in your mouth when you are done. The lather in shampoo serves the same function. Febreze used it as well. It was discovered on accident in a lab. It did such a great job killing odors that once you used it you put it in the closet and forgot about it. Not great for sales so you tweak the reward. After a good cleaning people liked a heavily perfumed spray just to finish things off. The company modified the formula.

But sometimes changing the routine is not enough. In alcoholics anonymous which is a spiritual program they work with two or three things. One is the inventory which helps you identify the cues that make you want to drink. The second part is belief, you have to believe that things can get better . That is where the belief in a higher power comes in. Another example of belief playing a role was the team called the Bucs, a losing football team. The coach came in and taught them to memorize a few key plays by wrote. They drilled these routines to death until they knew them cold. They were successful all the way until the finals and then they started slipping up. They did not win the super bowl and the coach ended up transferring to another team he repeated the same process but with the new team something changed. The change was a a death in the coaches family of his son. It forced the team to pull together and believe. They won the super bowl. Belief and a support group.

Starbucks has one of the best training programs hands down and they treat their employees right. The training not only gives them great work skills some of which can be used for college credit but they also give you life skills. One worker could not even hold down a job. He was the product of a broken family and his inner anger lead to temper flare ups at work among other things. Starbucks had something called a notebook where you write up a problem that arises then you write down your solution to the problem and then you practice it. This guy ended up getting a position in management. Bravo Starbucks. The book also analyzes how Howard Schultz bought the company and built it up to what it is today.

A new CEO steps up at Alcoa. He totally shocks everyone by telling them he is going to focus on safety. A real turn off because people really care about money not worker safety. The CEO sets up a communication system that allows for employees to communicate with their supervisors and even the CEO himself. It also calls for interdepartmental communication. They end up with a near perfect safety record and they also boost productivity and stock values soar. This shows the power of changing key habits to change the over all scene.

An analysis of how markets work is included by showcasing how Target Dept. Stores use computer to track consumer spending habits so they could determine which coupon they should send to you. They were so accurate that it creeped out the customer. Solution make it appear more random, so instead of sending a pregnant woman a bunch of ads for diapers and baby products they would mix it up with ads and coupons for a lawn mower. Make everything regular and familiar. Of course they use this to sell you stuff you will want in the future even before you know you'll want it. Familiarity and regularizes also help hit songs become successful.

The last two chapters focus on societal habits by examining the growth of the Saddle Back Church and the Montgomery bus strike involving Rosa Parks. This first chapter puts the leadership not in the hand of one person but in the hands of the people and it works. The Saddle back Church focuses on small weekday study groups that meet in people's homes with or without the pastor. In the Montgomery Bus strike it showed the power of Personal Connections and also what is called weak links or what I call loose associations. We know it as peer pressure to invoke change.

Finally there is the trick Casinos use.They reward you with all sorts of bonuses to get you to come to their casino. The flush of winning, free travel feel good. You also end up gambling away your life savings. Are you free to stop are you compelled to keep gambling. The story is contrasted to night terrors and sleep walking. Habit happen unconsiously when we sleep. fortunately for most our brain paralyzes us so we cannot move but for other they at function does not works. The subconscious is free to cause you to sleep walk, act out in violent fear. Force of habit.

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