Today we will be taking a deeper look at The Power of Habit, in the second of our nine-part series on the mammoth hit that spent over a year on the New York Times Bestseller list. The Power of Habit was written by Charles Duhigg. Duhigg was a staff writer of The Los Angeles Times, until 2006; since then he has been a reporter at The New York Times, and was one of a team of New York Times reporters who won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting for a series of 10 articles about the business practices of Apple.
Chapter Three is “The Golden Rule of Habit Change,” and our subject for the chapter is Hall-of-Fame caliber coach Tony Dungy, and his vaunted 4-6 defense that other teams were unable to solve for almost a decade. The reason is that players in the 4-6 scheme weren’t running plays based on strategy, but rather responding to repetition and habit triggers, allowing them to be that tenth of a second faster that makes the difference between a tipped ball and a reception, a running back squeaking through a hole in the line or getting stuffed for a loss.
While in previous chapters we learned about the strategy of changing the reward, in this one we learn about a different strategy that shows habits can’t be destroyed, only altered. In essence, you have to retrain your habits into new ones that provide the correct result.
But how do you get your habits to take? Duhigg suggests AA as a model, and points to its use of ‘a higher power’ (usually the Judeo-Christian god) as a driving force, giving people the hope that this (changing habits) can be done. Similarly, when Dungy took control of the floundering Buccaneers, they resisted his changes, and the 4-6 defense was a failure at first. But by giving yourself hope that you can change, and really believing in it, that becomes the missing piece that lets you replace the ‘routine’ portion of your habit tic with something healthy while maintaining the reward.
In the small view, we see a habitual nail-biter retrain herself in a matter of a week using only her existing pockets, by thrusting her hands in them whenever the urge to bite arose. Tracking her successes gave her the ability to see that this could work, essentially forcing herself to believe.
Thus, we arrive at the Golden Rule of Habit Change:
“If we keep the same cue, and the same reward, a new routine can be inserted.”
If you want to change a habit, you must find a new routine that can replace your old one, while keeping the same reward system in place. Next week, we start digging into the science and studies backing up the first 90 pages’ assertions.