Pondering my habits, the decisions that I make without consciously thinking, the best example that comes to mind is when I’m at a meeting or a conference and there are numerous beverage choices. My initial go-to drink without so much of a thought is coffee, regardless of the hour or how many gallons I drank beforehand. If there’s a soft drink selection, I tend to work through a hierarchy Coke Zero, Diet Dr. Pepper, or Diet Coke. I look for the black can, the white can, and finally the silver can. If there’s none of these, I’ll find something else rather than waste my brain thinking about what beverage I’m in the mood for.
In the recently released The Power Habit: Why we do what we do and how to change it, journalist Charles Duhigg looks at the science behind the many daily decisions we make with out being aware that we are making decisions.
For the most part, habits are formed by a cue (there’s a table full of soft drink cans), then there’s a routine (I grab the black can of Coke Zero), then the reward (caffeine kick, Coke taste without the calories*). Add in the craving element—I see the black can and know I’m going to be reward with a slight jolt—and this forms the habit.
This is a gross simplification of what Duhigg communicates through individual, social, and corporate anecdotes such as how the reward of a freshly spritzed room turned Febreze into a billion dollar product. He also looks at the NFL-coaching style of Tony Dungy who changed his players’ habits to give them the advantage of speed.
Once a habit in engrained in the brain, it allows the brain to conserve energy by not paying attention to all the details. By making an automatic decision (grabbing the black can), one saves time and biological resources (energy spent thinking about if I want a Sprite or a Tab).
Duhigg does a great job of breaking down complicated science to create an entertaining and enlightening must-read for those who are interested in learning more about how the brain leads human behavior.
Disclaimer: I picked up this book as an advanced reader copy at the ScienceOnline conference in January 2012. The publisher, Random House, donated copies for conference participants.