The Power of Habits

Habits make life easier. And better. Habits allow us to do things almost without thinking, certainly without deliberation.  The power of habit in driving behavior is amazing.

Evidence of consumer marketing and merchandising is everywhere. Grocery chains place high-profit merchandise near the entrance and directly to the right because most people habitually turn right when entering a store. The lush displays of fresh fruits and vegetables are near the entry as well because they appeal to the shopper’s habitual desire to eat healthy. By the time he reaches the taco chip aisle he will already have been satisfied with the choice made to be healthy, and be ready to indulge in a salty snack. A new habit is formed.

Charles Duhigg in his “New York Times” bestseller “The Power of Habit – Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business,” explodes the notion that people make decisions when they are provided with evidence or persuasive arguments. Habit, as much as anything, leads to a product making it to the checkout lane. The Brain and Cognitive Science Department of Massachusetts Institute of Technology has developed intensive studies to evaluate brain science. The basal ganglia portion of the brain has been identified as the home for our habits.

Long before the human species learned to write things down, catalog information and subordinate choices, everything had to be remembered. The basal ganglia evolved to ensure survival.

Think of the many things you do each day with little or no thought. Getting in and starting your car. Backing out of the driveway. Signaling at the corner. You have not mastered these behaviors, simply remember them. Unconsciously. And the basal ganglia does it all day long. Habit.

Advertisers have learned to take advantage of our habitual behaviors by establishing routines and triggering responses which not only are effective but essential to activating responses. And creating habits. The story of someone gripped by addiction is a compelling affirmation of the power of habit. The daily, hourly, prayerful routines of a monk in a monastery shine with brilliance and glory.

Duhigg’s book is fascinating and entertaining. He describes how Tony Dungy pioneered habits for his NFL teams to master routines and win a Super Bowl. How Saddleback Church became a successful enterprise. And why the inventor of Pepsodent Toothpaste had such a hard time selling his product in the early 1900s when fewer than 10 percent of the population was brushing their teeth everyday. Success came when an advertising genius, Claude Hopkins – an expert at creating  new habits – created the routines and rewards that lead to a new habit. Immense need. Great product. No sales. Until the habit of daily brushing was formed.

In the nonprofit fundraising world, it is said that the second gift is the most difficult one to get. One reason is a habit has not been established after one gift. The basal memory is fragile. And the triggering mechanism is unfinished.

While we spend our energies on the creative treatments and new ways to present the persuasive evidence of results achieved, overlooking the power of habit is to miss a critical fulcrum on which everything else lifts. Jim Collins, author of “Good to Great” commented on “The Power of Habit,”  . . . this book is a provocative and useful insight!”