Why We Do What We Do


Want to sleep more, eat better, exercise more, watch less TV, be more productive? According to Charles Duhigg, in his book The Power of Habit, the secret to success is in studying your habits.

Here's the main concept behind the book, the big take away (or at least my big take away): "there's nothing you can't do if you get the habits right."

Although you can never erase bad habits completely you can override them by layering better habits on top. How do you do this? By studying three things:

1. Cue

2. Routine

3. Reward

For instance if I drink a Blue Bottle New Orleans coffee every day around 3pm (hypothetically) and want to stop this habit because a) that's too much caffeine that late in the afternoon b) all of the half and half is making my pants tight or c) all of the above, I need to ask myself why I crave this drink at this hour. Is it just because of the flavor? Is it because I like the distraction of walking away from my desk? Is it because I need the caffeine/sugar rush it gives? etc.

Let's say I study myself and decide it's because I like the distraction from my desk. I now know the cue for the "bad" habit (3pm boredom) and I now know my reward (distraction) so now I need to PLAN a new routine. So what is something I could do at 3pm to give myself a distraction from work? Anything really, but why not make it something that can help me with the problem of my pants being too tight?

New routine: taking my dog, Savage (he comes with me to the office), on a walk. It's a win, win, win: I get a distraction without adding more caffeine and calories to my diet, Savage gets exercise and so do I).

Simple right?

Simplistic maybe but not necessarily simple.

I have known this information for the better part of a month but have still chosen the coffee more times than the walk. Why? Because habits are hard to break. But not impossible!

If you want to start making changes but aren't sure where to start might I suggest starting with a Keystone habit?

Keystone habits are the habits that matter most because they are "the ones that, when they start to shift, dislodge and remake other patterns." In other words they create a domino affect and they work both at home and in business.

An example Duhigg used was that of Paul O'Neill, a former CEO of Alcoa (an aluminum manufacturing company) who was brought on to fix previous management missteps.

When he took over the position to many stock holders dismay he only wanted to talk about safety not profits. Many people thought he was crazy and sold their stocks as a reaction to their concern. Arguably a horrible business decision since under O'Neil's watch Alcoa's stock price rose by 200 percent.

O'Neil credited his success to his focus on a keystone habit. By focusing on safety he changed the way machines ran, employees communicated, promotions were made and people were fired. He changed everything by focusing on one thing.

My question to you is what will be your first one thing?

I have two (one for life and one for business). Both will be a challenge.

1. Life - Sleep. After a recent podcast I've decided that sleep is far more important than I have previously given it credit for. I have a very happy, full life. A job I enjoy, a fiance I love, family and friends that I love and I have a serious fear of missing out (FOMO). As such I say yes to things more than I say no and when it's time for something in my schedule to be sacrificed, sleep is always the first to go.

NO MORE. After a recent podcast (something that really just reiterated what my mom has said to me for years...sorry mom) I "discovered" that sleep affects everything: my energy, my ability to make good decisions (i.e fruit over cake), my mood, my future health (sleep deprivation is being linked to cancer, Alzheimer disease and many other horrible things.

I have spent the better part of the last decade believing that sleep was optional. Moving forward I'm going to try to make 7-8 hours of sleep a night a habit, in hopes that if I do it will be easier to change other habits.

2. Work - Organization. I decided while reading this book that organization should be the first of J&J's keystone habits. It's my hope that the more organized our home base is the more money we'll save (i.e. I won't think I'm out of airpots, order a pallet and then find cases of them the next day) and the better we'll be able to serve our customers (i.e. it's a lot easier to fix a machine if you know where all your tools are).

In closing I'd like to ask you some more questions (feel free to answer one, all or none):

1. What is a habit you would like to change? Do you know your cue, routine, or the reward you seek?

2. What is a keystone habit you think you could most greatly benefit from in your personal life? In your work life?

3. If you have already broken a habit, how did you do it?


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