Every reader of Fifty Five Plus will be familiar with habits developed over a lifetime. Sometimes the habits are so familiar, so ingrained that they no longer feel like habits at all. More like automatic, subconscious responses to everyday situations. Some of those automatic responses will be beneficial while others may be the source of unwanted effects such as gaining weight through snacking, drinking excessively, gambling away more than you can afford or becoming stressed by events that occur with monotonous regularity.
Habits that have taken a lifetime to develop become an integral part of your persona are often accepted as an immutable reality. Common retorts to criticism of bad habits include, ‘Too late to change now,’ ‘You can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ and many more. However there is hope. It is not too late to change habits and ‘teach new tricks’.
Research into how habits develop and more importantly how they can be modified is a field of study that has occupied the best minds in behavioural science for decades. The Power of Habit draws upon hundreds of academic studies, interviews with over three hundred scientists and executives and research conducted at dozens of companies. The book provides an insight into how ‘habit loops’ are formed using a cue that activates a habit followed by a routine which then results in a reward. Many examples are provided where long established habits have been changed for the better through experimentation that seeks to modify parts of the ‘loop.’
The voluminous body of research behind The Power of Habit includes interviews with hundreds who have battled to overcome destructive or debilitating habits along with those who have used their knowledge of habit structure to transform the profitability of industries, guide the design of shopping centres,encourage the uptake of new technologies and products, provide advertisers with the tools to change consumer habits, dictate where and how we shop and modify habits of perception that influence family life and in turn affect the broader society. As this book ably demonstrates, habits are all pervasive. They dictate aspects of our behaviour and we are surrounded by those who understand how to manipulate or create new habits to achieve specific outcomes.
Charles Duhigg is an investigative reporter for the New York Times and a winner of the National Academy of Sciences, National Journalism and George Polk awards. He was part of a team of finalists for the 2009 Pulitzer Prize. Duhigg engages the reader through an ability to highlight examples of habit-based behaviour that resonate with the everyday lives of ordinary citizens. Many will find the accounts of transforming the profitability and corporate culture of Alcoa by the seemingly simple process of providing greater focus on the habit of safety as an extraordinary example of lateral thinking. And there are many similar success stories throughout this work that can all be traced to understanding and modifying habits.
The author makes plain that despite the depth of research and current understanding of habits and how they can be created or modified, there exists a range of extreme habits that appear to have a genetic basis rather than that of a learned behaviour. He cites the example of a chronic gambler who is overwhelmed by the desire to risk everything. A person who is incapable of resisting the urge to take risks while simultaneously being fully aware of the near certainty of disastrous loss. For most people however, rational thinking can provide the insight required to change the habits that are adversely impacting our lives, no matter what our age.
The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg is highly recommended.
Published by William Heinemann, London.
Available on Amazon Kindle.