The Power of Habit: 5 notes

Orkhan Huseynli
4 min readJan 6, 2022

How habits shape our entire life & what to do with them

Recently I read “The Power of Habit” by Charlse Duhigg, my first non-technical book in the last 5 years. At some point I needed to stop learning new technologies, development or architecture patterns, and instead make a step back to reflect on my mental health.

Description of the book caught my attention because, indeed, bad habits stop us from reaching our goals, while good ones can get us to the “moon”. So far I am very happy that I purchased this book and it starts affecting my daily life.

Here I want to share with you 5 important notes that I scratched from this book for myself, and I believe it may be beneficial to you as well in your day-to-day life.

1. Habits are optimised automations in our brains

Habits are optimised programs that are stored in the section of the brain called “basal ganglia”. If we repeat any task over and over again, our brain tends to optimise actions requiring finish the task and stores them in “basal ganglia” in a formulated routine. Then our brain uses that “already stored routine” instead of worrying about “how to do things”. (Similar to the machine/production automations that saves a lot of time and energy)

2. Habit loop or how habits are formed?

The golden rule of habit lies in these 3 steps: cue, routine and reward. I will put some images from the book that explain it all.

For any habit there is a cue (or “trigger”) that leads a person to the well defined routine as he or she anticipates a reward. And anything can be a cue: people, a friend, TV ad, laptop, mobile phone, music, food and etc.

So pay attention to what triggers you and work with it (more on this on the step 5).

3. Habits are formed consciously and unconsciously

Some habits emerge as a result of life routines. For example, if you usually drink a cup of coffee every time around noon time, it may be due to the fact that you used to chat with colleagues in the office kitchen during lunch time and used to drink coffee as a part of group’s conversation tradition. Eventually you develop a habit, though you have not been subscribing to it knowingly. (Now count how many habits you’ve developed unconsciously so far?)

The same way, we can consciously develop strategic habits that will help us to achieve our goals. For example, if I want to read more books, obviously I can start reading books every day at 6:00 PM for an hour until it becomes a habit. (Remember, time and location are one of detrimental cues of habits)

4. Societies and organisations also follow habits

The book surprised me with evidences of how groups of people and organisations also follow habits. There are a lot of scientific research about it. To understand how habits benefit or damage organisations or groups of people, I recommend you to read those case studies in the book.

Right now I am identifying good and bad habits that I encounter in the firm and the team I am working with. Interestingly, I wouldn’t pay attention to so many crucial things if I had not read this book.

5. Identify cues, rewards are consequences.

Every habit entails some reward: the sugar that gets to you brain after eating a cookie, the excitement when you play a video games or anything else. But not rewards put you in the “habit routine”. “Cues” do. If you identify those cues, you may reprogram yourself to behave differently and break the harmful routine. For example, if you drink Soda (Cola) everyday after a lunch, then maybe your cue is a food itself that you are eating. As you are already aware of the cue which entails your “craving” for soda, let a glass of water be your first drink right after you finish eating. If you try this for a week, you can reprogram your brain from a can of Soda to a glass of Water.

The author of book lists 5 questions that can help you to diagnose your habits and identify the cues:

  1. Where are you?
  2. What time is it?
  3. What is your emotional state?
  4. Who else is around?
  5. What action preceded the urge?

The book gives plentiful interesting facts about personal stories and business cases. Overall, I learned a lot and definitely it has a positive influence on my IT learning & development journey (which is never ending).

Read also:

1. Write Better Code Faster: 5 min read

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