I recently finished reading The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, and I enjoyed it so much that I felt compelled to write about it. This book helped me better understand not only my own habits, but those of peers, businesses, and society as a whole.
The Power of Habit takes a deep dive into the science behind habits, and explains thoroughly why people and companies do what they do. Here are 5 key takeaways from the book that really resonated with me.
Your brain wants to do less.
“Habits, scientists say, emerge because the brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort. Left to its own devices, the brain will try to make almost any routine into a habit, because habits allow our minds to ramp down more often. This effort-saving instinct is a huge advantage...An efficient brain also allows us to stop thinking constantly about basic behaviors, such as walking and choosing what to eat, so we can devote mental energy to inventing spears, irrigation systems, and, eventually airplanes and video games.”
People often believe that committing to many habits causes a stressful and demanding life. They think that having a full schedule and a busy lifestyle results in clutter and chaos. On the contrary, habits create freedom.
When big chunks of your day are driven by habits, your brain is able go on cruise control. You don’t have to spend time and energy making decisions or figuring things out. You just go. By doing so, you have infinitely more energy to tackle the tasks that aren’t routine.
Takeaway: For more time and energy, make your life more routine.
Habits can never be forgotten.
“We know that a habit cannot be eradicated-it must, instead, be replaced. And we know that habits are most malleable when the Golden Rule of habit change is applied: If we keep the same cue and the same reward, a new routine can be inserted.”
Habits are never erased. Even if they’re pushed back into the deep recesses of the brain, they’re still there. It’s why you often hear alcoholics or drug addicts say that they never truly “beat” the disease. That they have to fight the urge to fall back into their habits every day.
The brain can’t tell the difference between a good habit and a bad one.
To the brain, simplicity is simplicity, whether that routine is destructive or not. A bad habit can never be forgotten, it can only be masked by a good one. That’s why life-long smokers become avid runners. They replace the temporary satisfaction and relaxation of a cigarette with the endorphin “high” that comes from exercise.
Takeaway: If you have a bad habit, replace it with a good one that gives you the same feeling of fulfillment.
Some habits matter more than others.
“...Keystone habits can influence how people work, eat, play, live, spend, and communicate. Keystone habits start a process that, over time, transform everything.”
“Keystone habits offer what is known within academic literature as ‘small wins.’ They help other habits to flourish by creating new structures, and they establish cultures where change becomes contagious.”
This is definitely something I can attest to. Sometimes, creating one keystone habit can generate enough momentum to change your entire life.
My keystone habit is waking up early. Waking up at 4 AM enables me to workout, read, listen to podcasts, work on my business, and spend time with my family. It has massively improved all areas of my life.
Small, daily wins are something I put a huge emphasis on. I’m constantly asking myself, “Am I one step closer or one step further away from accomplishing my goals today?” I know that if I stick to my habits and keep making progress, no matter how minor, my small wins will soon compound into large victories.
Takeaway: Develop a keystone habit that, no matter what, you will stick to every single day.
WILLPOWER is the key.
“Dozens of studies show that willpower is the single most important keystone habit for individual success.”
“Willpower isn’t just a skill. It’s a muscle, like the muscles in your arms or legs, and it gets tired as it works harder, so there’s less power left over for other things.”
As my man Eric Thomas says, “Average skill, phenomenal will.” There will always be someone out there stronger, smarter, faster, or more gifted than you. But that’s not under your control. What you can control, however, is your effort.
Talent will only take you so far. Numerous studies have looked at the habits of successful people, and above all else, the trait that they have in common is WILLPOWER.
Willpower wears down throughout the day. The more decisions you make, the more depleted your willpower becomes.
This is exactly why I set up my entire day the previous night before I go to sleep. Before I go to bed each night, I prep my meals, lay out my workout clothes, pack my things for work, and check my calendar. That way, when I wake up I literally have zero decisions to make. I just go. My willpower is still at 100%.
This is also why I workout first thing in the morning. A full day of decision-making and deep-thinking at work has the potential to completely drain willpower and make it that much harder to decide to go to the gym.
This is also why people typically binge eat or drink at night. After making tough decisions all day, it’s easier to just grab a beer and a bag of chips and lay on the couch than prepare a healthy meal.
Takeaway: Prepare your day in advance (everything from what you eat to what you wear) to save your willpower for the things that truly matter.
Habits begin with a choice.
“If you believe you can change-if you make it a habit- the change becomes real. This is the real power of habit: the insight that your habits are whatever you choose them to be. Once that choice occurs-and becomes automatic-it’s not only real, it starts to seem inevitable, the thing...that bears ‘us irresistibly toward our destiny, whatever the latter may be.’”
You control your habits.
You have the power to create them, change them, and capitalize on them.
The more healthy and productive habits you develop, the more positive momentum you’ll generate.
Takeaway: BELIEVE in yourself and TRUST in your habits.