How to break habits (from The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg)

How to break habits (from The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg)

Imagine for a moment that you have a habit
that you really want to change. Let’s say, for instance, you go up to the
cafeteria every afternoon and eat a chocolate chip cookie. This habit has caused you to gain a little
bit of weight. In fact, this habit has caused you to gain
exactly 8 pounds, and your wife has started making some pointed comments. And when I say you, what I really mean is
me—because this is a habit that I had, that I just couldn’t kick. To understand why that habit was so powerful,
and what it would take to change it, I had to learn how habits work. Every habit functions the same way. At first, there’s a cue—some type of trigger
that makes the behavior unfold automatically. Studies tell us that a cue can be a location,
a time of day, a certain emotional state, other people, or just a pattern of behaviors
that consistently triggers a certain routine. To figure out the cue for my craving, I spent
a few days tracking exactly when the urge to eat a cookie hit. And what I noticed pretty soon was something
interesting. The cookie craving always hit between 3:00
and 3:30 in the afternoon. That was my cue: It was a certain time of
day. The next part in the habit loop is the routine—the
behavior itself. And for me, that was pretty easy to figure
out. Every day between 3:00 and 3:30, I’d get
this craving for a cookie. I’d get up out of my chair, I’d walk over
to the elevator, I’d take the elevator up to the 14th floor, I’d get out, I’d buy
a cookie, and then I would eat it while talking to my colleagues in the cafeteria. The last part of the habit loop is the reward. And in some respects, the reward is the most
important part, because that’s why habits exist—so that we can get the rewards that
we want. But figuring out a reward is kind of tricky. To figure out what reward was driving my habit,
I did a little bit of an experiment. One day when the cookie urge struck, instead
of going up to the cafeteria, I went outside and I took a walk around the block. Then the next day, I went up to the cafeteria—but
instead of buying a cookie, I got a candy bar, and then ate it at my desk. And then the day after that, I went up to
the cafeteria again, but I didn’t buy anything. Instead, I just talked to friends for about
10 minutes. You get the idea. But what I was trying to do was test different
hypotheses to figure out what reward I was actually craving. And what I figured out pretty quickly was
it had nothing to do with cookies. It had to do with socializing. Nowadays what happens is, at about 3:30 in
the afternoon, I absentmindedly stand up. I look around the office, I see a friend,
I’ll walk over and we’ll gossip for 10 minutes, and then I’ll go back to my desk. The urge to go get a cookie has completely
disappeared. The new behavior has become a habit. And I’ve lost about 12 pounds as a result. Studies have shown that if you can diagnose
your habits, you can change them in whichever way you want. So what are the cues, routines, and rewards
in your life? What habit do you want to change? The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In
Life and Business. Learn More at


28 thoughts on “How to break habits (from The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg)”

  • I definitely believe habits are psychological, yet one must definitely be able to be "aware" of self and the self. My opinion

  • 3 Minutes Smarter says:

    Random House killing it with awesome content – I love reinforcing what I have read with these types of videos – thank you for sharing!

  • but what if the reward isn't the socializing but the actual thing of eating it. like what if you figured out the switching to the chocolate was just as good and the food was the actual rewrd? That wouldnt really help the change of habbit then

  • * Every habit has three components: CUE, ROUTINE, and REWARD
    * CUE *
    – Cue is a trigger that makes the behavior (habit) unfold automatically.
    – Cue can be anything like a location, time of day, certain emotional state, other people or pattern of behaviors.
    – To pin point the Cue, we must track the habit a while to see what exactly acts as its trigger. In Charles Duhigg's case, it was a certain time of day, between 3:00 to 3:30 PM.

    * Routine *
    – for Duhigg, it was getting out of his chair, going to the elevator, going to the 14th floor, buy the cookie and eat it while talking to his colleagues.
    – After finding the cue, it would not be that difficult to figure out what the routine is. All you have to do is to track what happens between cue and reward.

    * Reward *
    – It is the most important part, because that is why the habits exist.
    – To pin point this one, you should do some trial and error. In Duhigg's case, he isolated different situations (possible rewards) to see which one he was actually his reward. He tested these things after his cue happened at around 3:
    – going for a simple walk for a few minutes.
    – going to the 14th floor and buying a candy instead of a cookie.
    – going to the 14th floor and buying nothing and just chatting with his colleagues.
    – What he figured out was that his habit had nothing to do with the cookie but it was all about socializing.
    – So now, what he does is getting out of his chair at 3:30 PM, finding a friend and chatting with them for about 10 minutes. No more cookie cravings!
    – Once you figure out what these three parts of your habit are, you can start substituting it with a desirable habit.

  • imperfectgamer87 says:

    I just finished the book for an honors project in my psych class and it really was fascinating! I loved this video!!!

  • Read his book. It totally changed my perspective about the world around me. But the greatest thing about the book was – it allowed me to have awareness and control of my behaviors, it basically stopped me from going to autopilot mode ALL the time.

    Buy his book and be changed.

  • Samantha Baise says:

    This is a basic ABC model. Antecedent, Behavior, Consequence. What essentially has happened, is this guy did a functional assessment on himself and implemented his own behavior intervention. Pretty cool.

  • Mewnicorn Madness says:

    How do I stop watching so much youtube that doesn't have a point? Like I love watching videos like this one, motivational or giving me ideas on how to change certain things, but I find myself watching videos I don't even find interesting – yesterday I was watching a documentary about some medical thing gone wrong – i'm not even interested in medicine!
    Anyway, this happens at many times, at different locations. Usually in my house, or in the library at school when I'm meant to be doing homework. Some days I feel bored, others I'm not motivated to do what I'm meant to be doing, sometimes I don't even know why I'm watching it, I just subconsciously click the youtube page and watch whatevers on the trending page.
    I think I've figured out that the reward is that I am doing something – I'm a really restless person tho – and I hate being bored
    The routine is that I open my laptop, click the youtube bookmark or type yo into the search bar thing, click on a video and then watch it, and then get clickbated into watching other videos.
    My problem is that I can't find the cue…
    I mean I can try and find other things to do like go for a run or text some friends or anything really, but I tried that and it only works like 30% of the time?

  • Changing habits to benefit yourself is great. However, anyone who works in an office knows the pain of people who interrupt your flow to gossip. So Charles went from eating cookies to habitually pestering colleagues. Next book… The Power of Changing Other People's Habits.

  • AA Productions says:

    Even as you were describing it, I was like "nope, this ain't just about the cookie!", as there's a lot more going on here than just eating a cookie. For example, you've been sitting for a long time and your body wants you to get up and move around, and as a human you also need exercise, and there's the socializing factor which is obviously very important for humans to experience (because connection to other things with a conscience is one of the most basic parts of being human).

  • Richard Angelus says:

    This book will take readers to the thrilling edge of scientific discoveries that explain why habits exist and how they can be changed. If you're interested in this subject, you'll never be disappointed. You need to understand habit because as William James, philosopher and psychologist, once said, “99% of human activity is done out of mere habit.”

    To read my review of Charles Duhigg's The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business (2012), CLICK HERE:

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