The Power of Habits

Author Charles Duhigg. (Creative Commons.)

William “Bud” Hart, of Haverhill, shares “Success Principles”—ideas for living a greater, better and more accomplished life, and building habits that stick. He also coaches clients to incorporate strategies for boosting their mental and physical performance during everyday living.

William “Bud” Hart, of Haverhill, shares “Success Principles”—ideas for living a greater, better and more accomplished life, and building habits that stick. He also coaches clients to incorporate strategies for boosting their mental and physical performance during everyday living.

In a conversation with a client this week I was reminded just how much we (me in particular) resign ourselves to relying on habits to get through every day at work and otherwise. In essence, all of our lives take shape around the series of steady thoughts and practices we form over the course of our lifetime and once accepted we routinely act on day in and day out. These habits may support us in leading a life of fulfillment, or do just the opposite.

As I see it, success is our birthright. It is the truth we are expected to experience and live. But here is the catch for just about every one of us. We are our own worst enemies when it comes to achieving it. There is nothing, no obstacles or opponents that can derail our hopes and dreams faster and with greater ease than our own negative thinking, self defeating routines and bad habits. And when we live with these things long enough, we fall victim to what appears to be failure. And in that, we fail ourselves.

In his book, “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business,” New York Times Pulitzer prize-winning reporter Charles Duhigg writes about the science of habits, explaining how they work and how we can change them. His work dives deep into both the habit forming process and the habit changing process. I am currently in the midst of reading his book and so far I find it to be a fascinating, informative and thought provoking read.

According to Duhigg’s research at its most basic level, a habit is a simple neurological loop. First, there is a cue—a trigger for a particular behavior; followed by a routine, which is the behavior itself; and finally a reward, which is how our brain decides whether to remember a habit for the future. For example, my mouth is dry (the cue), I get a drink of water (the routine) and I am rehydrated and refreshed (the reward). Understanding this loop is the key to not only remaining hydrated, but eating right, exercising regularly, being productive at work, making the most of our talents and many other of our behaviors.

We all have the capability to think and act in a positive manner if we really want to, but way too often we resort to imbedded negative thinking and the idea that we are not able to do this or that. When we grow up hearing from parents, kids at school, friends and society that we can't do a certain task or that we can't pursue a certain dream it sticks. This type of mind limiting talk creates a limiting belief system. Unfortunately it enters not only into our minds, but our actions as well, fostering unhelpful habits that end up being a big part of who we are.

The way we perceive and interpret ourselves is a result of the belief system and the habits we adopt growing up. But we are always changeable. While it can be challenging Charles Duhigg points out that being aware and learning how to exploit our unique neurological cue, routine and reward loops for advantageous performance is the key to having success and the life we want.

As Duhigg’s book shows, tweaking even one habit, as long as it's the right one, can have staggering effects. But this is nothing new. More than 2000 years ago the Greek philosopher and scientist Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” A success principle that we all should pay heed to.

William “Bud” Hart is a certified “Mindset” Coach, Accountability Partner and Business Consultant. Visit Hart Group, www.hartgroupma.com for more on coaching.