What if I told you that people spend almost half their time acting like robots?
Hard to believe, but a 2006 study by Duke University found that people spend 40 percent of their waking hours absorbed in habitual actions.
This is the why harmful habits like overeating and substance addiction are so hard to break out off.
It’s because of this that The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg is such an important book for freelancers.
Productivity and time management are two of the biggest challenges freelancers will face in their careers.
If you spend 40 percent of our time locked in old habits, chances are that your productivity suffer.
Fact is, we’ve all been there.
You have a huge deadline looming tomorrow, but Netflix just released the latest episodes of your favorite show.
Or maybe you decide to just skip gym today – missing out on one session won’t hurt, right?
But it does hurt. As much as we like to glorify and make fun of it, procrastination is just another bad habit, and may be just as bad for your career and business as any harmful, self-destructive one.
And this is where The Power of Habit comes to your rescue. Charles Duhigg shows us that bad habits can be broken, if you understand how they are formed in the first place.
Before we look at how habits are formed, it’s important to understand why The Power of Habit is such a powerful book.
Duhigg got the idea of writing the book because of his fascination with the ingenuity of a U.S. Army Major stationed in Iraq during Gulf War 2.
This Major and his troops were stationed in the town of Kufa in Iraq and faced a particularly tricky dilemma. Every Friday, after prayers, huge crowds of angry men would gather in the town.
After a couple of hours these crowds would turn violent and start riots. U.S. troops would then be called in to quell them and restore order.
This was dangerous, exhausting and counterproductive work.
Then the Major noticed that the crowds where particularly big and nasty in places that had a lot of street food vendors.
So he ran an experiment.
The Major asked the town’s mayor to keep food vendors out of the town center one Friday. Guess what? Without any food to fuel them, the men went home after a couple of hours without rioting!
Based on this story, Duhigg spent 8 years researching habits and found that they are made up of three simple elements.
The habit loop, or the sequence of ritualized behavior, is made up of three parts: the cue, the routine and the reward.
The cue is a trigger that tells your brain to engage its autopilot and which habit to use.
For example, if you are under a lot of stress, you end up feeling bad about yourself. To raise your serotonin (the happiness neurotransmitter) levels, your brain might tell you to go eat chocolate fudge ice cream.
At this point your routine kicks in. You got to the fridge and grab a tub full of delicious chocolaty goodness. Mind you, routines don’t have to be physical, they can be emotional or mental too.
Finally, there is the reward. This is the most important part of the loop. You see, the reward is the goal of the entire sequence.
When serotonin is released at the end of a sequence, your brain’s pleasure center analyses it and decides if it’s worth being stored in memory to get turned into a habit.
If the chocolate fudge ice cream made you feel good, beware. Your brain might try and make it your go to remedy for stress.
Sounds simple, but it’s taken over 50 years of research and deepening our understanding of neurobiology and psychology to get here.
And it’s super important.
Because if you understand the three steps of habit formation, you can ‘delete’ bad habits and ‘install’ good habits in their place.
This is the part I love. Duhigg calls this his golden rule… are you ready?
The key to breaking bad habits [and installing good ones] is to switch the routine and leave the cue and reward intact.
For example, we can hack our chocolate fudge ice cream example to replace it with a healthier habit. So instead of reaching for the ice cream in the fridge, you go for the yoghurt.
Your routine is changed, cue and reward are the same.
You get a feel good snack that makes you happy and has much fewer calories – win-win.
Be careful though. Habits that have been part of your life for a long time are harder to break. The more often you have reinforced a habit, the deeper embedded in your brain it is.
How can you work around that? How do you ‘install’ good habits to replace bad ones? You’ll have to read The Power of Habit to find out.
I really enjoyed reading The Power of Habit.
As a freelancer, you entirely depend on yourself to create the structure, discipline and accountability to do the work and get paid.
But discipline (i.e. willpower) and grit will only get you so far.
By understanding and working with your habits you can overcome the negative ones that are killing your productivity and time management.
You can then consciously replace them with habits that boost and enhance your productivity.
Was there anything I didn’t like about The Power of Habits?
Charles Duhigg does a great job bringing all the science of habits together in one place and making it simple.
But when he tries to apply his theories to organizations and societies it all gets a little… metaphorical.
Also, this isn’t a practical ‘self-help’ kind of book.
Duhigg gives you the basics and illustrates them with stories, but he doesn’t provide a ‘For Dummies’ breakdown of habit formation and change.
In other words, you actually have to pay attention, learn from him and apply this awesome material by yourself.
There is no hand holding in The Power of Habit. Just simple, profound knowledge. What you do with that knowledge is up to you, like the author says:
“The difference between who you are and who you want to be is what you do.”
So what are you waiting for? Get The Power of Habit here and do!
Keep on rocking,
PS: Good habits will make you more productive, but only a spiffy laptop decal from Freelancer at Work will make you stand out in the crowd and attract clients to you.
It’s a great conversation starter too! Find your decal here.