Understanding "habit loop" key to changing them, author says

Fri Mar 16, 2012 1:39pm EDT
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By Bernard Vaughan

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Understanding habits can help people radically transform their lives and companies boost their profits, Charles Duhigg, an award-winning investigative reporter with The New York Times, argues in his new book.

"The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business" examines daily life within a matrix of oft-overlooked habits which account for more than 40 percent of the actions people performed daily, according to one study he cites.

That study looked at everything from Procter & Gamble's marketing of Febreze odor freshener to how a down-and-out chronic smoker re-tooled her habits and became a fit, successful professional.

"Most of the choices we make each day may feel like the products of well-considered decision making, but they're not," Duhigg writes. "They're habits."

The key to changing habits? Understanding "the habit loop," Duhigg says. This three-step process consists of a cue, or trigger (for example, you awake), a routine (you shower), and a reward (you feel clean and alert).

"When a habit emerges, the brain stops fully participating in decision making," he writes.

Understanding this loop, Duhigg says, is what helped legendary ad man Claude Hopkins transform Pepsodent toothpaste into "one of the best-known products on earth" in the first half of the 20th Century.

Hopkins's ads in the 1930's exploited "tooth film" - a naturally occurring coating on teeth that everyone gets - as a trigger, with brushing as the routine and a more beautiful smile as the reward. Pepsodent spiced up the reward with citric acid, mint oils and other chemicals to enhance the cool, tingling taste, Duhigg says. Bingo. The power of habit at work.   Continued...