Charles Duhigg: Creating Powerful Habits | E146

Charles Duhigg: Creating Powerful Habits | E146

Charles Duhigg: Creating Powerful Habits | E146

Ever wonder how our brain creates habits?

Today, we are talking with the Habit master, Charles Duhigg! Charles is a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, a best-selling author, a former New York Times Reporter, and current a writer for the New Yorker Magazine. His book The Power of Habit, was on the NYT Bestseller list for over 3 years and has inspired a generation to create stronger habits in their lives. He is also the host of the How To! Podcast. His other book, Smarter Better Faster is also a NYT bestseller.

He is the founding host of the How To! podcast with Slate and the recipient of the George Polk award, the Investigative Reporters and Editors Medal, the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award, and other honors. Charles speaks to a wide variety of audiences on topics ranging from how habits emerge and change within lives and companies to how idea brokers generate creativity.

In this episode, we hear about Charles’s childhood and his journey to becoming a writer. We’ll discuss Charles’ time as a reporter in Iraq and how his time there put him on the path to studying habits. We’ll also hear break down the key components to creating habits, and how a place like McDonalds can unknowingly affect our habits! If you want to learn critical skills to create meaningful habits, keep listening!

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Check out our website to meet the team, view show notes and transcripts:


00:47- Charles’ Childhood and Journey Into Writing

01:26 – The Power of Habit Origin

01:57 – Working in Iraq

5:39 – Habits in the Military

6:05 – What is A Habit

7:05 – Anatomy of the Brain

9:00 – Difference Between Memory and Habit

9:30 – Components of A Habit

16:30 – Cravings and How They Relate to Habits

18:00 – Mcdonalds And Cravings

21:20 – Supermarkets and Habits

24:24 – Social Media and Habit Loops

27:51 – How To Change A Habit

32:03 – Keystone Habits

35:51 – Charles’ Secret to Profiting in Life

Mentioned In The Episode:

The Power of Habit-


hala-2021-10-25__12-5-37: Hey, Charles, welcome to Yangon profiting podcast.

charles-2021-10-25__9-4-36: Thanks for having me

hala-2021-10-25__12-5-37: I am very excited for this interview. I've actually been trying to get you on the show. Since I started yap. Back in 2018, the power of habit was one of my all time favorite books. It was actually the first book that I read to get me kickstarted on my self improvement journey.

And you were one of the first people that I tried to get on the podcast now three and a half years later. You're finally here. Thank you so much for taking the time out to speak with us today. So let's start back to your childhood. Um, I know you don't speak about your childhood very often, but from my understanding you grew up in New Mexico and I didn't find too much research about what it was like growing up for you.

So let's start there. What was your childhood like and how did you first get into writing?

charles-2021-10-25__9-4-36: Uh, I mean, my childhood was pretty normal. I, yeah, I grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico and, um, and I got started in writing?

because, um, I guess when I was in middle school, my, uh, I didn't know what to do during the summer. And so my mom signed me up for an internship and the internship that was available was at the Alberta Tribune, which is a newspaper that doesn't exist anymore.

And so I went there and. Um,

spent the summer working on the sports desk and I didn't know anything about sports, but I just found, I really enjoyed writing. So it was fun.

hala-2021-10-25__12-5-37: That's awesome. And you know, I know it's going to be the ten-year anniversary of the power of habit in 2022. So I thought we could really just spend time on that book specifically in dive super deep. That's what we do at yap. And, uh, let's start with the Genesis of the book from my understanding. You were a journalist in Iraq.

And that's where you first had the idea to study habits. So talk to us about that experience and how that kind of kicked you off on this journey to really understand the power of habit.

charles-2021-10-25__9-4-36: Yeah. So I was, uh, after I went to, I got an MBA at Harvard business school and I decided to become a journalist midway through Harvard business school.

And so I went to the LA times and at the LA times they sent me to Iraq to cover the war. Eh, the, when I got there, I was trying to figure out what to write about. And part of being a, uh, a journalist in Iraq is that you tend to get embedded with the military. And So.

they, they sent me down to this, Um,

town named Kufa, which was about an hour south of Baghdad in order to embed with the army.

That was. And I got there and there was this, this army major who was really, really interesting. And I started talking to, he was a really smart guy and I asked him, you know, why are you here? What's going on? Can you sort of help me get oriented? And he said, well, I was sent here really to stop the riots from happening.

And they had been having all throughout Iraq at this point, they had been having a lot of riots that were killing people. And so the army major arrived in, in, uh, in Q4. And he met with the mayor and he asked the mayor, you know, he had a whole list of, of like requests. Like, can you stop the gun runners, can you stop the suicide bombers?

And the mayor was like, look, man, if I could do any of that, I would have already done it. Like I can't do any of that stuff. And so the, the last thing on the major's list was, you know, can you remove the food vendors from the plazas? And the mayor was like, okay, that one I can do. I can get rid of all the kebab sellers that are in the plazas.

And so, uh, about a week later.

A bunch of people arrive into Kufa and, and there's a, in there's a, there's a, uh, mosque named the grand mosque of Kufa, which is a very important site in Shia Islam. And so there's a lot of, of, um, of pilgrims who show up to worship there. And so, and this had been the site of some previous riots because there were so many people.

And so the way that a Right. normally develops is that there will be a bunch of troublemakers who show up and then spectators will come to watch the troublemakers. And it usually takes. Six or seven hours for a riot to really develop. And more people will come to watch the people who came to watch the troublemakers and the crowd will get larger and larger until finally it's large enough that someone throws a bottle and a riot breaks out.

Uh, a couple of weeks after the major arrives, there's some, there's some troublemakers who show up near the grand mosque of Kufa and the Plaza that's out in front of the mosque and then some spectators show up and then more spectators, you know, time keeps going by and, and finally at about five or five 30 in the evening, the crowd has gotten large enough that it's at the conditions where a riot is likely to have.

And as the major's telling me the stories, he has drone footage and he's showing me the drone footage from overhead. And he says, now watch the people at the periphery of the crowd and the people who are at the very periphery of this large, large crowd, eh, around the grand mosque, they start like looking over their shoulders and he says, What they're doing is there it's five 30 it's dinner time.

They're looking for the kebab sellers who are normally in the Plaza, but of course we had removed the, the kebab sellers, all the food vendors had been removed. So these people at the periphery of the crowd, these kind of just wander off assumably to walk home and have dinner. And then there's another ring of people who see these people wandering away and I guess, think to themselves, oh, there must be a better riot going on somewhere else.

I'm going to follow them and see where they're going. And so they kind of wonder. And over the next 45 minutes, the Plaza essentially kind of clears out except for the troublemakers, but because the troublemakers don't have an audience anymore, they go home to, and in the months that this major had been there, there hadn't been one riot.

And I asked him like, how did you know that this would work? That removing the food vendors would stop the riots? And he said, look, I didn't really. When I joined the military, it was kind of this education in how habits function, the military U S military and all military militaries are some of the biggest habit change experiments on earth.

They, you know, your instinct when someone's shooting at you is to run away and they teach you the habits to shoot back. And he said, once the military had taught him to see the world in terms of habits, it really changed how we saw everything. And that's how he was able to, to figure out that removing the food vendors might influence how this crowd behave.

hala-2021-10-25__12-5-37: That is so cool. I feel like people don't realize how powerful habits really are. So can you talk to us about how often habits make up our day as.

charles-2021-10-25__9-4-36: Yeah, there was a, an experiment or a series of experiments done by a researcher named windy wood. Who's now at USC. And when she found out. 40 to 45% of what we do every day as a habit. So about half of your behaviors each day is our habitual in it.

And a habit is a decision that we made at some point, but we stop making the decision and continue acting on it. Right? So at some point you decided to have, you know, an unhealthy sandwich for lunch rather than a healthy salad. And now when you walk into the cafeteria, you get that same sandwich, but it's not as.

if you're.

Making that choice, right? It just happens automatically. It happens on, on like autopilot that's because the habit has taken over.

hala-2021-10-25__12-5-37: Um, so let's break down the anatomy of the brain. Cause I think it's really great context for my listener. I know listeners, I know that you describe it as an onion where the outer layers are more complex. That's where your more complex thinking happens. That's the most recent structures of your brain and the inner parts are more primitive and automatic.

So can you explain all of this to us so that we can understand really how our brain functions and where habits live in the brain?
charles-2021-10-25__9-4-36: Yeah. So one of the oldest structures in our brain is known as the is named the basal ganglia and every animal on earth has a basal ganglia, the basal ganglia. It's kind of almost at the center of the brain near the, the, um, the brain stem where your, where your spinal column meets your brain?

And the basal ganglia basically exists to create habits.

And, and the reason why. The basal ganglia exists and why every animal has one is because without this ability to create habits, we would never have evolved, right? The, the capacity to take a behavior And make it automatic is essential for, for the development of higher thoughts. So if when you walked down a path, you saw a rock and an apple, and you had to think really hard to decide which one to put in your mouth.

Well, then you would spend your entire day. Evaluate rocks and apples, but because it becomes a habit, oh, the red one is the one that I can stick in my mouth. The gray one is the one that I should kick to the side. That's how you can get the free space within your brain to think up fire and building homes, and then aircraft carriers and video games, right.

This ability to take behaviors and make them automatic make them into habits. That is how every species. Excels. And so it's a really important and really valuable skill. And it's amazing that humans can take the most complex behaviors and make them habitual. But it also means that because we essentially stopped thinking in the middle of a

habit that in less we're deliberate about which habits we let into our lives, that, um, that things might go with.

hala-2021-10-25__12-5-37: Yeah, totally. So let's, let's take another context question. Let's talk about the difference between memory and a habit, because I know they're different, but a lot of people think that they're the same. Can you explain that to us and why that's different?

charles-2021-10-25__9-4-36: yeah. Um, I mean, so a memory is, is an event that you remember and a habit is an automatic behavior, right? So, so they're, they're not really very similar at all. Um, and I think people know that that when they, when they remember something, it feels very different?

from when they automatically do that.

hala-2021-10-25__12-5-37: Okay, well, um, thank you for breaking that down. Um, all right, so let's talk about the components of a habit. So there's three main steps that you talk about in your book, cue, routine, and reward. Talk about that to us, because I know you'll explain it very eloquently. And then I will ask you some follow ups about each

charles-2021-10-25__9-4-36: Sure. Sure. So, yeah. So as you mentioned.

we tend to think of a habit as one thing, right?

But it's actually these three separate things. There's a, there's a cue, which is like a trigger for an automatic behavior to start. And then, and then the routine, which is the behavior itself, what we think of as the habits and then there's the reward. And every habit in your life has a reward, whether you're aware of it or not. it's that reward that the basal ganglia. Latches onto in order to, to make that behavior automatic it's because you anticipate that reward. So when you back your car out of the driveway, you know, the first time you back your car to the driveway, you really have to concentrate on it very hard, but you know that by the fifth or sixth or ninth time, you can kind of almost do it on autopilot, right?

You don't have to pay that much attention. That's because it's become a habit. And what's important is that if we could see inside your brain, When you backed the car out out of the driveway, your brain is anticipating a reward and sure enough, when you safely make it into the street and start driving away, there's a little, little squirt of neurotrauma reward, neurotransmitters, dopamine, and, and other.

Other chemicals to sort of make yourself feel good and like a sense of reward. You're not aware of that reward sensation, but your brain is aware of it. And, and our brain pays attention to rewards and punishments, and it makes the things that happen that give us a reward. Okay. More automatic, easier to access.

And so that's really important because what we know is, you know, when most people think about changing their habits, they focus on the behavior on the routine. But what we now know from a lot of studies is that it's the cues and the rewards that are really the tools that give us the ability to change the, the behavior.

And so if you diagnose the cue and the reward driving a particular habit, that's how you can.

hala-2021-10-25__12-5-37: Yeah. So let's dive deep a little bit on these three steps. Let's start with cues. What are some examples of a cue or something that triggers a routine that you have.

charles-2021-10-25__9-4-36: yeah, so, so almost all queues fall into one of five categories. It's usually a time of day, a particular place. Um, the presence of certain other people, a particular emotion or a proceeding behavior that's become ritualized. So like, what's, what's a habit that you have.

hala-2021-10-25__12-5-37: Um, exercising

charles-2021-10-25__9-4-36: Okay. So, so tell me about w when do you normally exercise? Tell me about, about when you

hala-2021-10-25__12-5-37: after work, once I'm done with my last meal.

charles-2021-10-25__9-4-36: Okay. And so what, what do you do? What happens before? What happens before you exercise that makes you say like, okay, I'm ready to exercise now. Now is extras.

hala-2021-10-25__12-5-37: I put on my on-demand workout and as it's starting up, I'm getting my weights ready. I'm putting on my shoes and like getting my water and getting ready to work out

charles-2021-10-25__9-4-36: and is it a consistent time of day? like is it usually at five o'clock or six o'clock or.

hala-2021-10-25__12-5-37: o'clock every

charles-2021-10-25__9-4-36: 700. Okay. Okay. So for you, for your exercise habit, it, it sounds like there's probably a handful of cues. One of them is a time of day.

that it's, it's when you're, you know, sort of at seven o'clock in the evening, it sounds like there's a proceeding behavior.
That's become ritualized, which is you put on your workout. Tape and you sort of set up your, your weights. Um, my guess is that there's probably some emotional cues that you sort of have a, a calmness or an anticipation you're looking forward to a certain reward that, you know, working out gives you. So, so that's how we find those cues.

Right? And, and if somebody wants to figure what the cue is, For a habit, literally, you could just have a piece of paper next to your desk, or, you know, wherever you are and just write down those five things. Whenever you feel a craving for a certain habit. If I, if you feel a craving to have a doughnut or a craving to exercise, just write down, you know, what time is it?

Who else is around? How do you feel emotionally? What behavior did you just do? Where are you? And you'll figure out really, really quickly with the acute.

hala-2021-10-25__12-5-37: Hmm. So let let's, uh, talk about rewards a little bit, because when I think of a reward, I think of like money or food, but it can also be emotional. So talk to us about what our reward can be and what are the qualities of a good.

charles-2021-10-25__9-4-36: well, a reward can be anything that you find rewarding, right? So anything that you find to be satisfying or to be, to provide you with something. So let's take exercise. When you exercise, how do you feel afterwards?

hala-2021-10-25__12-5-37: Um, healthy,

charles-2021-10-25__9-4-36: Okay.

hala-2021-10-25__12-5-37: energized.

charles-2021-10-25__9-4-36: Okay. So, so you just mentioned three potential rewards, right? So one in row, or that you mentioned is kind of a, um, Is a sense of pride and emotional, an emotional reward that you have yourself, which is accomplished, You also feel energized.

like you have more energy. So that's probably like a, there's actually a neurochemical reaction going on there.

You said that you feel healthy. So that's different from feeling accomplished because oftentimes when we feel healthy, that could be a physical sensation that you have. It could be, uh, an emotional sensation that you have. So, if you, if you could only have one of those, what do you think? You know, if you could only get one thing from exercise, which w which thing do you think would be most rewarding for you?

hala-2021-10-25__12-5-37: The energizing part, most

charles-2021-10-25__9-4-36: The energizing part. Okay. And how do you know that you feel energized? Like, what do you do that, that proves to yourself that you feel energized?

hala-2021-10-25__12-5-37: I go do some more work. Honestly, I have a big company, so I go and, you know, work on my agency and get a new burst of energy for a couple hours.

charles-2021-10-25__9-4-36: okay. So I think that, you know, for you, it sounds like. Exercise provides probably energy that it gives that you've come to associate the active exercise with giving you something that's rewarding, uh, some more energy that you can then direct to what you want. And I think, you know, recognizing what that reward is now you could have easily said, well, actually after I exercise, I, I take a nice long shower.

Right. And it just feels so good to be able to relax or where I like that soreness in my muscles feel. Good or, or you could say, you know, I keep track of the exercise. I do every single day. And I have this journal that I put it in and it makes me feel really accomplished to like check off each day that I've gotten the exercises done.

So there's different kinds of rewards of the same behavior can provide to different people. And one of the things that's important about creating habits is recognizing what that reward is and figuring out what really drives you because at the core of that habit is a craving. Your brain is craving that reward.

The more, you kind of understand what that craving is. The more you can, you can direct your behavior in ways that make exercise more and more automatic.

hala-2021-10-25__12-5-37: Yeah, I, I would love to stick on cravings a bit because I think this is a really important point that a lot of people miss, can you explain why a cue and reward is just learning by itself? But once you add on a craving, that's when it can actually become a habit. Could you help us understand that a bit more?

charles-2021-10-25__9-4-36: Well, Yeah.

so, so, well, the craving is kind of just this thing that drives the, the, so, so the, this cue routine reward that we talked about is referred to as the habit loop. Right? And so the question is, how does that loop start spinning? Like, what's the, what's the driver that gets, that gets you to a place where when you see the cue, you want the reward enough to do the behavior that you know, will deliver that reward and that's craving, right?

Our brain has this ability to anticipate a reward and. Craving the reward. I, everyone who's listening has felt this, right. There's. At your office and you're not hungry at all. And then suddenly you see like a donut. And at that moment that when you see the donut, though, in that queue is a, you have a visual cue, you begin craving the donut.

You're like, like start thinking like, I really want a donut now, 10 seconds ago, you weren't hungry, but now, now you're craving having a donut. And that's because your brain begins anticipating. And then looking forward to receiving this dose of carbohydrates and sugar and tastiness. And that anticipation is what creates craving.

hala-2021-10-25__12-5-37: Yeah, so I'd love to get some real examples of how cravings actually work. Can you give us an example of a product that somebody tried to put out and it didn't have a craving, so it flopped, but once there was a craving. Okay, can you hear me or now I

charles-2021-10-25__9-4-36: Yeah. Yeah. Now you're back.

hala-2021-10-25__12-5-37: Okay, cool. Um, so I'd love to get a real example of how the habit loop works and how cravings work.

So why don't we take McDonald's for, for an example, can you talk to us about how people can get addicted to McDonald's?
charles-2021-10-25__9-4-36: Yeah.

So one of the things that McDonald's has done really, really well is it has. So every McDonald's location looks basically the same, right. Um, in fact, so much so that oftentimes the, the McDonald's will mandate how you design the actual store itself so that it looks very similar to other stores.

And of course the packaging is the same. He uses these bright colors. This is all Q creation. What they want to do is they want it to make it as easy as possible that when you see a McDonald's or you walk into a McDonald's that the QS suddenly make you begin anticipating what McDonald's can deliver to you.

This reward that you've become accustomed to receiving from McDonald's. And the food itself is very similarly designed. You know, one of the things that McDonald's does, for instance, It's French fries are designed to basically begin kind of falling apart in your mouth, as soon as you put them in your mouth.

And the reason why is because they want to spread the oil in the fries as fast as possible because our body likes oil that likes that salient, uh, feeling of, um, uh, fullness that we get from, from consuming a fatty carb, fatty in carbohydrates. The reason why they make the fries that way is because if you deliver that reward right away, then as soon as people see the golden arches, as soon as they start thinking about those French fries, they begin anticipating eating those fries and the reward that the fries will deliver.

And that's what makes it much easier. Pull the car over and go through the drive in and say like, give me an order of fries. Even though we know French fries is like, literally like the worst thing you can possibly eat. That's very, very unhealthy, but they're able to use cues and rewards to make it, make it almost automatic for us to want them.

hala-2021-10-25__12-5-37: Yeah. And then how fragile are these habits? So if McDonald's, if the McDonald's that you go to in town shuts down, are you going to go drive to the next McDonald's to get your meal?

charles-2021-10-25__9-4-36: Well, so, so one of the things that's interesting is that when queues are disrupted very often, people's behavior will change very easily. Right? So the pandemic's a great example of this. I, if, if people think about the habits of the head during their Workday, there might've been. Unhealthy habits that they were trying to change, right.

That they tried to, you know, drink less coffee. They tried not to have that donut from the break room. They tried to get themselves to spend less time on social media and, and at work, it was really hard to do that, right? Because all these cues were around us that we had become habituated to. We had all these habits in place and then suddenly we stopped going to work.
We're working from home now. People will find it very easy to change their behaviors when the cues are disrupted. So yeah, if McDonald's shuts down, then suddenly people stop craving fries because they're not driving past McDonald's anymore. So habits have this real hold on our, our brains and our behavior, but they're also very flimsy that when the cues and the rewards are destabilized, it can often be very easy to break a habit that otherwise felt very, very hard to change.

hala-2021-10-25__12-5-37: Yeah, and I want to go into how to change a habit, but I do want to dive into some more examples here. Let's talk about supermarkets because supermarkets also play tricks on our psychology. Do some cool habits. Can you, can you explain that to us as well?

charles-2021-10-25__9-4-36: Sure. So, Um,

so one of the things that supermarkets do is that they try it. Take the, they do two things in particular. They try and take the types of foods that they know will trigger, Um, a craving and put them, put them in places where they're very easy to see. So when you walk into a supermarket, one of the first things that you'll see is you'll see.

High carbohydrate foods, whether those are like apples, right? Because apples are crunchy and they have lots of sugar in them. Sometimes they'll have like these like pallets of chips or other things that like deliver like a really fast taste sensation. And they put them there because they know that if, if they put those things there, people will start thinking to themselves, oh man, I love those chips.

Those chips are so good. And even if they don't grab a bag of chips right at that moment, when they walk in, as they're walking through the super. Part of their brain will be thinking about those chips. And so now maybe they pass some cookies and they're more primed to grab those cookies or they walk past the chip aisle.

And they're more prime to say, like, you know, I really should get some chips and bring them home. So supermarkets will take advantage of that. The second thing that supermarkets know is that willpower is like a muscle, right. And it gets tired with use. And so one of the other things that they do is that they put a lot of the healthy things upfront as you first walk.

And then they'll create the way that you walk through the supermarket, that you're going to be passing some of the really tasty things that you don't really want, that you know, are bad for you, but you really like, like cookies or sweets or things like that. And then when you get to the checkout counter, They put a bunch of candy by the checkout counter, right?

High margin items that are really sweet and really, really tasty, or like those like cheesy magazines, celebrity magazines, and the reason they do that is for twofold. First of all, they know that you've been using your willpower throughout this entire time. You're in the supermarket to basically say no to the cookies and say no.

And so your willpower muscle is tired. And so now that your willpower muscle is tired. Now, when you're on the checkout line now is when they give you. The last final temptation, and they know that you're more likely to grab the thing and throw it into your cart because you've been using your willpower muscles so much that it's all tired out.

The second thing is that they know that if you're waiting in line, it's kind of boring and, and boredom is a form of tension. And in order to relieve that tension, oftentimes what we do is we look for something that delivers a fast reward. So simply putting someone in a line. Board makes them more likely to reach over and grab that candy bar, those cookies, or that dumb magazine and throw it into their cart.

hala-2021-10-25__12-5-37: Um, I feel like people don't really realize how much these companies and marketing departments and how much money people are putting into creating these habits for consumers. And, and that this is actually things that people research and spend a lot of time on. So I'd love to bring it to the future because what comes to mind is all these social media platforms and Netflix and all these things that we're addicted to.

Can you talk to us about how these kinds of platforms form a habit loop to.

charles-2021-10-25__9-4-36: today. Sure. Well, so let me ask you how much time do you spend on social media?

hala-2021-10-25__12-5-37: Well, this is my, my job. So I w I run a marketing agency and for many clients. And so I'm always on social media, but it's more like my work. So I don't know if that's a great example.

charles-2021-10-25__9-4-36: well, I mean, do you ever go on to like, do you enjoy your time on social media?

hala-2021-10-25__12-5-37: Yeah.

charles-2021-10-25__9-4-36: Yeah. So what do you enjoy about it?

hala-2021-10-25__12-5-37: I like talking to my fans and seeing what they're writing in my comments and things like that. And my DM.

charles-2021-10-25__9-4-36: And so, and what do you think, what, what kind of reward does that provide?

hala-2021-10-25__12-5-37: I feel like my work is meaningful when somebody comments or DMS me and says they love listening to the show or whatever it is, or that I've helped their lives.

charles-2021-10-25__9-4-36: so I think, I think that one of the things that social media does is it makes it easy for us to access those rewards. Right? I mean, if you, if you were to post something and you go on. And you go and you look at it and you see that there's, there's no comments associated with it. The people haven't seemed to interact with that, with that content very much.

I'm sure that there's a part of you that feels a little bit disappointed, right? You say like, you know what happened? Why, why don't people like this? So you have a craving for an anticipated reward, the types of content we'll deliver to you and, and, you know, social media platforms are very good at doing this.

Now. Netflix is different. So Netflix is in the social media platform. For the, for the platforms themselves that allow this kind of back and forth, you know, creating a like button, creating the ability for people to comment easily. There's this anticipation of feedback. And when the feedback is not there, there's just a little bit of disappointment, right? Yeah. And, and the feedback oftentimes feels very interactive. It feels very, very real. So someone hitting the like button, you know, if two people hit the like button, that doesn't mean very much. If a hundred people hit the like button that tells you something, but in comments, if two people leave comments and those comments are really interesting And they say something, then that on its own can be enough.

And so that's one of the things that social media platforms do is they understand what kinds of rewards we want and they help facilitate.

hala-2021-10-25__12-5-37: Yeah. And I could imagine that all those push notifications and things like that become our cues to, to check out or social media or the rings and the dings that, that these platforms do whenever somebody is messaging you.

charles-2021-10-25__9-4-36: Yeah, absolutely. You know, I think that, um, now I turn off all the notifications because, and I don't spend that much time on social media platforms, but, but turning off the notifications means that, you know, there's fewer cues there. And so it's less distracting. And as a result, there's less of a, of a need.

To turn to these platforms, but certainly if you're sitting there working on something and you hear the ding, that means, you know, that someone's commented on your post or some, or you've gotten the notification of some other kinds, there's this part of your brain that says, oh, go check that, go see what that says, like maybe that's going to deliver this reward.

And sometimes the reward is simply novelty that it delivers like some type of like momentary burst of new experience, which when you're in the middle of writing, a hard memo is always kind of nice.

hala-2021-10-25__12-5-37: Yeah, just really quick. I just want to be sure you have seven minutes.

charles-2021-10-25__9-4-36: seven minutes.

hala-2021-10-25__12-5-37: Okay. All right, then I'm going to skip ahead to some other stuff. Okay. So let's talk about how to change a habit. So for my understanding, you can change the routine part of the habit if you want to actually change the habit. And I think a great example to take my listeners through is alcoholics anonymous.

So talk to us about alcoholics anonymous and what they do to actually get people to change their habit of being an alcoholic.

charles-2021-10-25__9-4-36: Yeah. So, so a lot of times when people talk about habits, they talk about breaking a habit, right. Trying to extinguish a bad habits. And what we know from the research is this is the wrong way to think about habit formation, because once you have those neural pathways associated with that cue, that routine, that reward.

The neural pathway is going to stay there. So through willpower, you can, you can ignore habit, you can try and repress it, but that means that when you're stressed or when you're tired, that habit might just erupt out again. So, so what psychologists refer to is they refer to the golden rule of habit change, which says, rather than trying to extinguish a habit, you should try and change a habit.

And that means diagnosing with the cue and the routine and the reward are, and then finding a new behavior, a new routine that corresponds that old cue, and that delivers something similar to. The reward, as You mentioned

AA is a perfect example of this, right? So for many people who have drinking problems, They have a sort of a habit dysfunction, which is, you know, they come home from work and they've had a long day.

That's their cue is now they're ready to relax. And, and so they grab a beer or a glass of wine, maybe two or three or four more than they would like. And what it allows them to do is it allows them to physically relax. And very often people will do this in the company of other people. Right. They'll do it at a bar.

They'll do it with friends. And they'll get into a habit where the reward that's getting delivered to them is a sense of, of catharsis and release and relaxation and social. Right. I can be with my friends. I can talk about what's, what's bothering me. I can relax and sort of be open and free about what's going on in my life.

And I've come to, to associate the alcohol and particularly the physical effects of the alcohol as the catalyst that allows me to do that. So the queue is a certain time of day. The reward is a certain feeling that I get, where I get to unburden myself, either through talking to other people or simply through relaxing and kind of admitting to myself, you know, like why my day was good or bad.

So what AA says is AA says, look, we're not going to take this away from you. We recognize that you have a habit in your life that is important to you. There's you have a craving for a certain type of reward. What we're going to do is we're just going to change that routine a little bit. So.

Now when you get home from work, instead of going to a ball.

We're going to ask you to use that same Q and come to an AA meeting. And at the AA meeting, it used to be, you'd go to the bar, you'd have a couple of drinks. Then you'd like start telling everyone about your problems or start talking about your day. When you come to an AA meeting, you're going to do the exact same thing.

You're going to talk about your problems. You're going to talk about your day, but you're going to do it with other people. And in fact, we're going to create an environment. Where it is expected that you will talk about the things that are meaningful to you, right? At the beginning of an AA meeting, everyone stands up and they say, hi, my name is Jeff.

I'm an alcoholic. And then they tell their story about being an alcoholic or what was hard that day. And, and that's a part, that's how AA meetings work. If you've ever been to an AA meeting and anyone can go to an AA meeting there, most of them are open to people who aren't alcoholics and it's well worth going.

It's a very emotional, very cathartic. And so what AA says is they say, look, we're not going to change the cue or the reward. We're just going to change the routine. Going to a bar at six o'clock and telling everyone about your day after having three drinks, you're going to go to an AA meeting at six o'clock.

And you're going to tell everyone all about your problems, not after a few drinks, but after saying my name is Jeff and I'm an uncle. And this is why AA is so successful is because it does not try and change your behavior entirely. It tries to help people change this one habit by finding a new behavior that corresponds to the old cues and the deliver something similar to the old rewards.

hala-2021-10-25__12-5-37: I love that example. Thank you for taking us through that. So the last concept that I really want to go over before you got to go is Keystone habits, because I think these are so powerful, so interesting. Can you first define what a Keystone habit is? And then we can talk through it a bit.

charles-2021-10-25__9-4-36: Sure. So what we know is that some habits are more important than others, that, that some habits, when they change, they send us, they tend to set off this chain reaction that changes other patterns in people's lives as well. Exercise is a great example of this, right? When many people start exercising habitually on the days that they exercise.

It's easier for them to eat more healthfully. And this doesn't necessarily make any sense when you think about it. Like, I don't know why when your, your legs are sore, it's easier to eat the salad rather than the sandwich and the cafeteria. But, but we know that that's true. Right. We also know that oftentimes and people aren't aware of this, but studies show it's true that when people exercise on the days that they exercise, they tend to use their credit cards less.

They procrastinate less at work for many. Exercises a Keystone habit that when, when they begin to exercising habitually, it changes other patterns in their lives, such as eating patterns and spending patterns and how and procrastination patterns. And, and so as a result, when people are trying to figure out what habit to focus on the answer is if you can figure out what that Keystone habit is for you, if you change that Keystone habit, then the other habits in your life will begin to change almost automatically without you having to work quite so.

hala-2021-10-25__12-5-37: So it's basically like a domino effect. You get this one habit get started and then you think differently about yourself and you start to do other things that positively impact your life. The other thing that I just want to stress to my listeners is that if you were like an athlete in school, growing up, if you were an athlete your whole life, then the exercise is not going to be a Keystone habit.

So how do people actually find out what Keystone habit they should do? Like what are the signs that it's a good Keystone habit for you?

charles-2021-10-25__9-4-36: Yeah. So you're exactly right. So Keystone habits, they tend to have a lot of power because they change how we think about ourselves. So yes, if someone was like a high school athlete and they started exercising again, it's probably not going to change how they think about themselves. It's not going to change their self image, but if there's someone who.

Is unaccustomed to exercise who are kind of irrationally, scared of exercising. They, they worry like I'm going to look. I mean, you know, I'm going to look dumb. I don't know like what shoes to, to use. Then when they start exercising, it'll kind of change their self-image of themselves. They'll begin thinking like, you?

know, I'm the type of person who goes running every morning and that type of person.

They don't pull out their Amex and buy something. They don't need, they don't, they don't eat unhealthfully in the cafeteria, they eat the salad. And so when people are trying to figure out the Keystone habits in their own lives, one of the things that they ought to do is they ought to look for these kinds of change.

That seem irrationally scary, right? The type of thing that, like, it seems like it should be easy for me to change this thing, to start doing this activity, to stop doing that activity. But like for whatever reason, whenever I think about it, I get kind of. Anxious right. Irrationally. I know that it should be easy to start running in the morning, but when I think about it, I just like, it makes me kind of anxious.

It makes me a little bit of tight to even think about doing it. That means that that's something that ties into how people view themselves and when they begin to change that thing, Almost automatically it'll change how they see themselves. And that's really what we're going for is that when you start seeing yourself in a different way, you start seeing yourself as the kind of person who exercises, where you start seeing yourself as the kind of person who doesn't smoke, or doesn't have a drink after work as the kind of person who doesn't get angry with your kids, or spends more time being present with your wife or your husband.

Once you start behaving that way. Your image of yourself in your own heads starts to change. And that's how the other behaviors flow out automatically.

hala-2021-10-25__12-5-37: Hmm. That's how big it is so interesting to me. So, Charles, thank you so much for your time. The last question I ask all my guests is what is your secret to profiting in life

charles-2021-10-25__9-4-36: gosh, my secrets to profiting

hala-2021-10-25__12-5-37: can be financially, professionally. You could, you could take it anyway.

charles-2021-10-25__9-4-36: You know, I think that, I think that in general, one of the things that the research tells us and that I've definitely found it in my own life is that the, the more we give ourselves time to think deeply about the choices that we're making. The more, we make better choices. And so one of the big questions is to ask, ask yourself, you know, am I spending time on the things that actually matter to me?

Or if I said somebody's gotten into a autopilot mode where like, because I have 30 emails today, I'm going to spend an hour and a half doing emails. And of course, if you spend an hour and a half doing emails, you're going to have 40 emails tomorrow. We get it. It's, it is natural to get into a place where our habits take over and we stop making decisions because it's easier not to make decisions, but the most successful people are the ones who force themselves to make choices every single day.
Because of course the most important choices you can make is what am I going to spend my time on it? And what am I going to say no to? And it really busy.

hala-2021-10-25__12-5-37: I love that those are some great productivity tips, and I'd love to talk to you about your other book smarter, faster, better one day, Charles, thank you so much for your time.

charles-2021-10-25__9-4-36: Thank you.

hala-2021-10-25__12-5-37: And where can our listeners go to learn more about you and everything that you do?

charles-2021-10-25__9-4-36: You can look me up [email protected] or I'm on Twitter at Sea-Doo HIG or really any way in anyone who emails me. I can promise you that I will actually read the email and respond to you.

hala-2021-10-25__12-5-37: Amazing. Thank you so much, Charles, for your time.

charles-2021-10-25__9-4-36: Thank you. Take care.

hala-2021-10-25__12-5-37: Awesome.

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