Caution: Changing Yourself May Become Habit Forming

January 11, 2015

‘And once you realize that habits can change, you have the freedom—and the responsibility— to remake them. Once you understand that habits can be rebuilt, the power of habit becomes easier to grasp, and the only option left is to get to work.’        Duhigg

When I think about learning, I tend to segregate it into two categories: building knowledge and building know-how. Knowledge is like the noun (information, awareness, facts, ideas, principles etc.) while know-how (although also a noun) is more like an action verb (involving expertise, faculty or skill to do something, savvy, proficiency). Know-how is the answer to an important question— how do we take knowledge and turn it into something we can use that will be beneficial to others, to the planet or to ourselves?

Knowledge generally provides only our admission ticket to success in most of our roles and endeavors. It’s our behaviours, habits, application and execution of knowledge that takes us the distance. Woven intricately into the complexity of our behaviours, habits etc., is our belief system—beliefs about ourselves and how the world works.

In his New York Times bestseller The Power of Habit, author and Pulitzer Prize winning investigative reporter, Charles Duhigg provides further proof of something I’ve experienced many times over and therefore believe: we are all able to change—learn new behaviours, more helpful habits, new applications replacing old patterns. And with even small wins in any change we make, we increase our belief in our ability to change, making further changes easier.

This book is packed with powerful stories, insights, research and examples of how our brains work when it comes to habits and how changing one key habit can lead to other habit changes, not only at the individual level, but within organizations as well.

Before this turns into a full-fledged book review, I’ll just add that if you’re leading a team or simply interested in changing your own behaviour while learning about some of the research and science behind how habits work, this book will be of interest to you.

I’d like to share Duhigg’s flowchart on ‘how to change a habit provided by the author. Since it required shrinking to fit on this page, it may serve as an eye exam for you as well! If you’re having trouble viewing it, I’ve included a link to a full page version at the end of this Coaching Moment.


Whether or not you feel inspired to read the book, I’d like to leave you with these particular thoughts from the author that I considered valuable:

1. Habits can be replaced rather than eradicated.
2. By keeping the same cue (that thing that drives your behaviour or habit) and the same reward (the craving you are trying to satisfy), you can insert a new routine, which can become a new habit.
3. The model applies beyond what we might normally think of as simple habits (like eating, drinking or exercising) and can extend to how we respond to stress or praise, how we evaluate ourselves, how we respond to others, how we approach our objectives etc.)
4. For the new habit to really take hold over time, we must attach it to a belief, especially a belief that an ongoing change is possible.
5. We all have ‘keystone habits’ which drive other seemingly unrelated habits. When we change a keystone habit, we get the added benefit of other positive changes that are somehow connected although not yet totally understood.
6. Our belief in a change being possible is most often solidified and advanced within a supportive group.

This last point is especially exciting to me in working with groups of professionals. It’s given me new ideas on how to more consciously use a group setting to build and reinforce new personal and cultural habits.

Through research on habits, the advertising industry has learned more about our habits and how to change them, than we know about changing ourselves. They have done their homework on habits and capitalized on it. That’s why we buy products we don’t really need and often aren’t conscious of the reasons for our buying preferences.

If life is a conscious woman’s/man’s game, shouldn’t we know as much about changing our habits as the people trying to sell us toothpaste do?


Happy Monday!

Warmest regards,


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