IDEA Box #10, January 2021, Habits

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IDEA Box #10 – Habits

Happy New Year and welcome to our first IDEA Box blog of 2021 where we are discussing ‘Habits’. Over Christmas we learnt The Power of Habit, discovered the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and found out how Atomic Habits can help us build good habits and break bad ones.

This month’s article discusses The Science of Habits, the podcast discusses Behaviour Design and Tiny Habits while the in the video Charles Duhigg tells us how he stopped eating cookies during his 3pm break.

Thanks for reading. Here’s to a healthy, prosperous 2021 built on powerful, positive habits!


The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change, Stephen R. Covey

Covey’s book is the best-known work on the power of positive habit formation. We’ve decided to include seven takeaways rather than our standard four for two reasons; (1) It might start 2021 off on the wrong foot if we were to cut three habits from a book called; “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, and (2) Jamie reviewed this one. He’s clearly a more effective person than me. Here are seven takeaways:

  1. Be proactive: Use your Responsibility and Initiative, and don’t be reactive. Proactive people focus on their Circles of Influence, choosing to work on things that are within their control. Reactive people focus on their Circles of Concern, fretting over things they can’t alter. As Victor Frankl put it; “Between stimulus and response man has the freedom to choose.”
  2. Begin with the end in mind: To ensure the proverbial ladder is leaning against the right wall, step back and assess what you actually want to achieve. The more precise and realistic your picture of the outcome is, the better your execution will be. The author suggests writing a personal mission statement and incorporating it into our daily lives.
  3. First things first: Focus on doing the things that are essential to your mission statement … or put another way, do important stuff first and other stuff later. Simple.
  4. Think win-win: As this week’s tragic events in Washington DC highlighted most people’s world view is shaped by a Win:Lose paradigm. However, as we discovered in last month’s IDEA Box, Win:Win solutions are much better.
  5. Seek first to understand, then to be understood: Empathetically listen to others. Try to build an awareness of the other person’s perspective so you can understand them intellectually and emotionally. When you truly understand, seek to be understood through clear, honest communication. Win:Win solutions are created through empathetic communication.
  6. Synergize: By understanding and valuing the differences in other people’s perspective we have the opportunity to create synergy, which allows us to uncover new possibilities through openness and creativity.
  7. Sharpen the saw: If a lumberjack spent all his time sawing down trees without stopping to sharpen his saw he’d soon have dull tools that wouldn’t fell a single tree. Take time to recuperate and recharge focusing on physical, mental, spiritual and emotional renewal.


This book is a great read and is available in all formats.

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do, and How to Change, Charles Duhigg

Duhigg, an award-winning New York Times business reporter, explains that habits emerge because the brain is constantly looking for ways to reduce effort. Left to its own devices the brain will try to turn any regular routine into a habit. Here are four takeaways:

  1. The habit loop: Duhigg believes there are three elements; (1) Cue, (2) Response and (3) Reward. Consider the following example: (1) Cue: Alarm clock rings. Your brain activity spikes. Your brain decides which habit is appropriate for the situation. (2) Routine: You march into the bathroom and brush your teeth with your brain on autopilot (or in my case you turn off the alarm and roll over). (3) Reward: Minty-fresh tingling sensation in your mouth. Your brain activity increases again linking the cue and the reward. In his blog Duhigg explains how toothpaste companies used the post-toothbrushing sensation to create an unbreakable habit. If you’re interested check it out here.
  2. Cravings drive habits: Cues and rewards are not enough. Cravings solidify habits. This applies equally to bad habits (such as the box of Roses I attacked every time I walked down to the Fitzgerald Power reception area in the run up to Christmas) and good habits (the endorphin rush you get after exercise).
  3. The Golden Rule of habit change: Don’t try to resist the craving, redirect it. The author suggests retaining existing cues and rewards but inserting new routines. He offers the example of Alcoholics Anonymous where the routine of having a drink is replaced by attending a meeting or calling one’s sponsor.
  4. Focus on Keystone Habits and small wins: Keystone Habits, such as making your bed every morning, exercising or meditating set forces in motion that lead to other small wins. This makes us believe that improvement is possible in other spheres of life, triggering a cascade of positive change. The point is neatly illustrated in two analogies, one involving Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps and the other aluminium producer Alcoa where the CEO improved the company across a range of metrics by focussing almost exclusively on its safety record.

Duhigg’s book is engaging, actionable and accessible. It is available in e-book, paperback and audiobook.

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones, James Clear

Clear builds on the work of Duhigg and others by providing a framework for creating good habits and dropping bad ones. Here are four takeaways:

  1. You get what you repeat: Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement. They can compound negatively or positively.
  2. Forget goals, focus on systems: Goals are about the results you want to achieve, systems are about the processes that lead to results. When you solve problems at the results level you only solve them temporarily. To solve problems permanently you need to address them at the systems level, or put another way … fix the inputs and the outputs will fix themselves.
  3. Focus on your underlying beliefs: A change only lasts when it becomes part of our identity. Our behaviour is a reflection of our identity. The author therefore suggests we shouldn’t strive to run a marathon (goal focus), we should strive to become a runner (system focus). Running a marathon is merely something a runner does. We will find it easier to achieve this goal if running is part of our identity.
  4. The rules of habit change: Clear builds on Duhigg’s habit loop steps by offering a set of habit rules; (1) Make the Cue obvious, (2) Make the Craving attractive, (3) Make the Response easy, (4) Make the Reward satisfying. These rules can be inverted to break bad habits; (1) Make the Cue invisible, (2) Make the Craving unattractive, (3) Make the Response difficult, (4) Make the Reward unsatisfying.

A thoroughly useful and enjoyable book that is available in all formats. There’s also some useful articles on his website.


The Science of Habits, Susan Weinschenk Ph.D., Psychology Today, 2019

The author argues that habits aren’t hard to create or change if we focus on the research. Here are two takeaways:

  1. Making the action easy increases the likelihood that it becomes a habit: If the gym is on your route home (lockdowns permitting) you are more likely to go as planned. If it is in an inconvenient location you are less likely. The same can be said of healthy eating. If your place of work is surrounded by fast food outlets your new habit would be best served by taking a healthy meal with you to work, unless of course one of those fast food outlets happens to be a LEON in which case you have delivered a Win:Win outcome!
  2. Habits with auditory and/or visual cues are easier to create and maintain: One reason using your mobile phone is so habitual is that it lights up when you have a message, and buzzes when you have a notification. These auditory and visual cues grab our attention and increase the likelihood that we will develop a conditioned response.

You can check out the article here.

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Behaviour Design and Tiny Habits, BJ Fogg, Unlearn Podcast, 2020

BJ Fogg is the founder of the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab which counts the founders of Instagram among its former students.  He speaks to Barry O’Reilly about adapting our behaviour based on the challenges we want to solve. Here are two takeaways:

  1. How to make a lasting change: For behavioural change to have longevity it must help you realise what you want to achieve (so essentially it must align with your identity) and make you feel accomplished.
  2. Done is better than perfect: The aphorism; “Perfect is the enemy of good” is often attributed to the 17th century French writer and philosopher Voltaire. The sentiment is shared by Fogg who believes one should create a minimum viable product and distribute it quickly. This can be applied to habit formation where repetition is more important than perfection, or as James Clear puts it; “if you want to master a habit you need to focus on practice rather than perfection”.

Listen to the podcast here.

For Your

How to Break Bad Habits, Charles Duhigg, 2015

We generally don’t include multiple pieces of content from the same individual but Charles Duhigg does seem to be the master in the field, so here are two further Duhigg takeaways:

  1. Breaking habits is a process of exploration: You must assess the root cause of a behaviour so you can effect change with minimal resistance. In this short video Duhigg explains the process behind breaking his junk food habit.
  2. If you can diagnose your habits you can change them: Duhigg found it was a desire to socialise rather than a desire to snack that drove him to the cafeteria each day. This allowed him to reposition the habit by changing the reward.

Check out the video here.

And Finally…
For Something

The Elevator to Success

According to Zig Ziglar there isn’t one, you have to take the stairs. With that in mind here’s a short Ted talk on how to set a 30 day challenge to nourish your mind, body and spirit.

Thank you for reading our blog. Next month we will be discussing Creativity.

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