Did you know that the majority of the things you do are done on autopilot? You never think about them, and you don’t execute each step deliberately. Examples include brushing your teeth when you wake up or before going to bed, tying the laces of your shoes or even driving. The reason for this is quite simple- your brain saves mental energy by automating the tasks you do repeatedly.
Unfortunately, some of the things we do repeatedly aren’t good for us, yet the brain automates them all the same. Think about smoking, binge drinking over the weekend, or even eating lots of sugary treats when we know they aren’t good for our health. All those are habits which we cultivate over time until we execute them on autopilot.
The good news is that by understanding how habits are formed, we can replace undesirable habits with others that serve us better. To get a clearer picture, let’s first take a detour to the story of how Pepsodent became so popular decades ago…
The story of Pepsodent
Charles Duhigg, the author of the bestseller The Power of Habit, reveals that while doing research for his book, he read about Claude Hopkins, the greatest advertiser of the early 1900s.
Hopkins was approached to help someone who had created a new toothpaste called Pepsodent. After reading lots of literature on dentistry, Hopkins decided that he would advertise Pepsodent as something which would offer beauty to its users by removing the film which coated their teeth and made the teeth lose their attractive appearance.
Hardly a month after his clever ads hit the airwaves, Pepsodent sales exploded and the product soon became a hit not just in the U.S. but globally as well.
What rules did Hopkins deploy in his adverts? He identified a cue which would prompt people to brush their teeth every day, and he dangled a reward they would enjoy after using Pepsodent. Hopkins’ clever advertising is credited with starting a regular brushing revolution given that surveys found that thanks to Pepsodent, half of all Americans brushed their teeth on a daily basis and yet previously, the numbers were dismal!
The anatomy of a habit
At its basic level, every habit, whether good or bad, can be broken down into three components. The first is the cue. This is what triggers you to perform a routine. It can be the time of the day, such as when you wake up and brush your teeth, or it can be an event, such as when you leave work and head to the bar.
The second component is called the routine. These are the things that you perform when the cue nudges you to act. The routine can be heading to the gym, lighting a cigarette, or even making sales calls.
The third component is the reward you attain after performing the routine. For a person who is on a weight loss journey, the reward could be standing on a scale and seeing that they now weigh fewer pounds than they previously did. This reward acts like fuel to the routine.
The super power of cravings
Scientific experiments done on monkeys show that when they are trained (or conditioned) to perform a certain action in order to receive a reward, the cue often triggers sensations of the reward even before the reward is given.
For example, if a monkey gets tasty juice each time it performs a correct action, it can start experiencing pleasure as soon as the cue appears. Remember Pavlov’s conditioning experiments on dogs? He would ring a bell and then give the dog a reward. Over time, the dog started salivating as soon as it heard the bell ring, even if no meat was offered. That salivation shows that the dog was craving for the meat it expected to receive as a result of hearing the bell ring.
Now, back to habits. Habits become very powerful when the reward is nurtured to the level of an obsession or a craving.
For example, the person working to lose weight can look forward to being able to wear their favorite bikini that no longer fits them. The desire to lose weight and fit into that bikini can be so powerful that it drives them to make appropriate decisions regarding dietary choices, sleep patterns, and sticking to a rigorous workout routine.
You’ve got to become obsessed in order to entrench a new habit that you want to create.
Practical applications for the science of forming habits
Once you master a principle, there is no limit as to where you can apply it. In this case, understanding the components of any habit and how habits form empowers you to work magic in different parts of your life.
For example, you can supercharge your personal development efforts by harnessing the power of habits. Want to improve your finances? Make it a habit to think through every purchase decision you make to confirm that what you are about to buy is a necessity rather than a want. The image/satisfaction of seeing your savings grow will be the ballast that powers you forward.
Your business can also benefit from this psychology. Think about how you can create a product that has a cue, a routine and a reward. Your customers will be hooked, and you will smile all the way to the bank! Remember the Pepsodent story?
Your relationships can also do with some positive habit formation. How about taking a nature walk with your significant other every Saturday afternoon (or as frequently as you can) and sharing about how that person has made your life better? The memories you create during those walks will stand you in good stead when some speed bumps jolt your relationship as ups and downs are to be expected in all human interactions.
Summing it up…
Everyone is different and so the specifics they choose when forming habits will differ. For example, one person’s cue for smoking may be totally different from another individual’s cue for reaching out for a cigarette. It is therefore imperative that you find your own cues, routines and rewards. Thereafter, change the routine in order to change your habits! So, what habits are you interested in changing using the method in this discussion? Let’s hear your thoughts in the comments!
To Your Success,