The Power of Habit


If there wasn't enough amazing things about working at Focus Lab, I'll give you one more: Erik and Bill, founders, host a leadership book club. Once a week, we pile into the conference and share way too much about ourselves in the context of the latest book we're reading. This season we're tackling The Power of Habit:Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business.

I'm only 30 pages in, but I can already tell it's going to transform the way I approach things.


Steeped in science, the author, Charles Duhigg, walks us through the latest discoveries and experiments that unlock depths of understanding of how habits are formed.


Having this information also gives us insight on how to change our pesky habits. There's two revelations thus far that has me reeling (in a good way). 


Cornerstone Habit

The theory is that there is a habit that's works like the lead domino which triggers other habits. The opening of the book introduces us to a test subject that illustrates the point. She was overweight, depressed, and smoked. She seemed like a completely different person at the point of retelling her story to the panel of scientists. The test subject was an avid runner with a marathon under her belt, new job, and engaged. Smoking was her cornerstone habit. When her life fell apart, triggered by her husband leaving, she decided that smoking had to stop. When she made that decision, the time previously filled with a cigarette was replaced with walking, then running. That propelled healthier eating, and soon a different lifestyle took shape. New habits were formed - the scientists had the brain scans to prove it.

One of our team members had a similar story. He shared his family struggled with keeping the house clean (who doesn't?). After some investigative work they realized it all sprung from the dishes. If the couple left the dishes, the impetus to pick up surrounding areas declined which then filtered down to all areas of the house. Putting their theory to work they committed to wash the dishes nightly. To their surprise they were right: they now enjoy a cleaner house and also save lots of money from not eating out. Win and win.

This made me think, what is my cornerstone habit? What's a negative habit that I want to break? That answer is easy for me: excessive use of social. K, got that - so then how do I break that? This leads to the second revelation.


The Habit Loop

Cue, Habit, Reward. It's really that simple.


There's a trigger, we do the habit, and there's a reward.


Over time our brains learn these patterns and creates pathways which then becomes our automatic responses. We're much like the rats in those mazes seeking the chocolate. Habits aren't formed over night.

With data to prove it, Duhigg explains that at first our brain is in a heighten sense of awareness as we do something for the first time.... like backing up a car. The first few attempts takes up all of our brain's processing power. But over time, as our brain has learned this task, automatic responses perform the hum-drum assignment which gives back our brain processing powers to think of other things ... like the lunch we forgot or items on our to-do list.  The habit becomes quite mindless, but all have a cue.

The cue could be music, scene, smell, feeling, routine, really anything. But once we're in that scenario our habit wants to take over, I have to hold myself back from oversharing the book (it's a must read) - but believe the research supporting all of this is quite compelling. 

So, going back to my cornerstone habit, the one I want to break the most - social media - what is it's cue and how can I change it?

After discussion during the book club (a great reason to read books with others), I realized that I could stop going to bed with my phone on my night stand. Checking social as the daily last and first thing sets me on a trajectory of binging throughout the day.

After one night of flying solo (sorry phone), I can honestly say there was a huge difference in my social engagement today. Granted, it was only one night. I'll report back.

What are your cornerstone habits? What's your cue? How can you set it? I'd love to hear about it!