• Carla Lemgruber

Co-Reads | The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg - Intro

When I moved to a new house, new city and new country, during most of the first months, I felt exhausted and dumb. I couldn't understand why the simplest tasks were demanding so much effort. I couldn't read about or study any new topic. It was as if there was no room in my brain for new intakes. And I felt so frustrated. Of course there was a big emotional work being done, but I was well taken care of, with a comfortable financial situation and continuing the therapy I was doing in Brazil through Skype. Was I that weak or fragile? The choice I had made was a hard one, but among the multiple possibilities and realities of that choice, I really had come in one of the easiest possible conditions.

However, learning the new language was almost torture. Each word needed to be read, heard and written several times before I could remember it. And I couldn't understand why. I had always found it easy to learn new languages, I always felt intelligent. What the emotional distress so big that it was impairing my cognitive skills?

That was when I started reading this book, "The Power of Habit", and already at the first chapter I found immense relief in discovering that it was not only an emotional and psychological issue, but also a "temporary mental capacity" one. The explanation of my intelectual difficulty was simple: I had lost all of my daily habits.

We usually say that when we do something repetitively, it was as if we were doing it "automatically". In fact, the adjective "automatic" is quite precise. Our habits are processes that are saved in our brains in a place dedicated for them, different from reasoning and memory. When we do something for the first time, the brain uses the rational are all the time. We literally think and analyze everything: we plan the necessary action to accomplish the task, we recognize the territory, we evaluate possible danger and risk, and decide what we should or should not do to succeed in whatever is the new thing we are trying to do. That means that when we do something for the first time, it is an exhaustive process of calculations and analysis. But, as we repeat the process, it starts to be saved in this separate compartment, allowing the rational area to be free to think about other things.

It is normal that we think think that our brains do all this analysis for complex processes. But in fact, they do that with every single new thing we bring to our lives: parking the car in a new garage, a new arrangement of the kitchen ware, a new diet, everything! Usually, just one or two new things change in our lives at a time. In my case, every thing had changed, so, literally, all my daily habits were being rewritten - and that was using a big part of my intelectual capacity.

Habits are a complex science. And in this book, several habits are explained with examples of scientific studies and true stories. The book talks about the habits of individuals and the cognitive process, using examples such as how people that have completely lost their memories can’t remember where their kitchen is, but they can walk to the fridge if they get hungry. Or how people who are alcoholics and have the habit of drinking rewrite their cravings through the A.A. program. A few habits, for example. are called “key-stone habits”, and when we try to change those, we unchain a series of other habits that need to be rewritten as well. It talks about will power, and how it can be trained as a muscle, including daily practice and also resting time.

In the professional sector, the book talks about how Michael Phelps turned success into a habit, through a mental training aligned with the physical practice. How Starbucks turned the excellency in serving coffee a habit to its employees through specific tools. How companies like Alcoa (one of the three major aluminium companies in the world) multiplied it’s profits when installing a new corporate key-stone habit.

The last pat of the book talks about habits in societies and I am curious to get there. At every new chapter I have been learning something new and fascinating about how habits are born, formed, and can be reprogrammed, reinforcing our chances of changing that things we want and need both in a personal and in a professional level.

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