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Category: Behavior (Page 3 of 3)

Book Review: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

Rationale for reading: Hope to improve my ability to keep clients accountable. Recommendation from Zach Moore.

Book summary: Habits are initiated with a cue and reinforced with a reward. If you understand how habits are made, then you can adjust your behavior. Find the cue and reward for your habit, then change the routine.

Review summary: I initially listened to this book, and it was so good I picked up a hard copy as well. There are a lot of pieces of the book that I left out of this review. There are some great stories, especially the chapter about Target and the chapter about the gambler vs. the widower. Very user-friendly book with a plethora of citations in the back. Highly recommended.

Suggested audience: Anyone who interacts with people, especially if you coach them to change their habits.


Stuck in My Ways

In the past, every time I got hungry while I was at home, I would make some food and go lay down to watch TV while eating. This severely ate up my productivity (pun intended because I like them).

I could be on a mission to get things done. Wake up at 6AM, go downstairs and power through a book for hours. Maybe noon hits: “I need to refuel.”

Go eat: “Man that show is good. I better watch another.” And another. And another…

It’s hard to get out of a habit.

But once I recognized what was putting me into this loop, I was able to change. Now I can eat and go back to working. Charles Duhigg explains the process well in “The Power of Habit“, and I’m going to outline some key points for you.


How Habits Work

The habit loop

I talked about this a little in a post the other day over on the IFAST website, but habits work in a cycle of mostly predictable steps. A cue tells you to do something, then you are rewarded. The more you do this, the more ingrained it becomes.

How does it get stored? Well one of the older parts of our brain, the basal ganglia, takes care of that. Storing habits is easy to take for granted because they become innate – you just do them – but consider what would happen if you had to think every single time you did every single thing.

When you’re first learning to drive, you step in, adjust the seat, adjust the steering column, look to see where the lights are, look to see where the windshield wipers are, remember to press the brake before coming out of park, move your transmission because you accidentally shifted into neutral instead of reverse, completely stop at stop signs to make sure nobody is coming (hopefully you still do that), and stay in the right lane.

Now when you’re driving you jump in, start going as you’re closing the door, “slow down – look – we’re good” when you turn, lean your seat way back, loosen your grip on the steering wheel, listen to music, put on your makeup, eat a sandwich, and yell at the kids… all at the same time.

If every decision and observation we made was conscious, we would be less productive and easily overwhelmed. Our basal ganglia helps with that.

Thanks little guy!

People with a damaged basal ganglia get locked up when they try to do simple tasks like choosing a path for their morning walk or ordering lunch at a restaurant. They can’t read body language because they aren’t quite sure what they should focus on.

A caveat, however, is that the basal ganglia can’t distinguish between helpful and harmful habits. If you repeat it, it shall stick. But if you learn to observe the cues that trigger your behaviors and the rewards you receive – the driving force – you can begin to change habits.

Cue —> Routine —> Reward. Simple enough.

But that’s not the whole story.


How to Create New Habits

A cue and a reward are not enough to make a habit stick. Your brain also needs to crave that reward.

In exercise, the best example are people who start running. Usually they start on a whim because exercise is supposed to be good for you, but they continue because they crave that “runner’s high”. They like the way they feel and the person they become when their body releases endorphins (happy hormones). After a while, they start to anticipate this feeling and their brain gets excited. It gets easier and easier for them to reinforce this habit.

But what happens when they get stuck at work and can’t go for their run? They get irritable. (Though they would get less irritable than someone who’s routine is going for a smoke.)

If you want to create a habit, create a craving.


Why Transformation Occurs

The golden rule of habit change: You can’t extinguish a bad habit, you can only change it.

No amount of will can take away that pattern in your brain, but you can build over it. Use the same cue and reward to take advantage of the pattern you’ve built, but change the routine.

Lets set up an example.

  • Cue: Seeing a jelly donut.
  • Routine: Eating a jelly donut.
  • Reward: Sugar high.

Soon enough, seeing a jelly donut creates a craving for a sugar high.

What if when you got a craving for sweets, you first ate an apple? You may still have the sweets after, at least initially, but you’ve begun building a new habit. Physiologically, the sugar in the fruit mitigates your body’s desire for blood glucose – i.e. your blood sugar still elevates, but to a level that is less detrimental to your health and body composition goals. The next step would be to have a handful of veggies when you get a craving for sweets. Then maybe fruit if you need it. You still increase blood sugar and you still feel good after, but you don’t need as much as you did before. You’ve then used a habit to please your pancreas and fight off type II diabetes mellitus.

So replace the routine. Okay. That’s easy.

But that’s not it.

You have to take into consideration why you’re craving your reward in the first place. Consider people who unleash their inner alcoholic when a relative dies. You can replace drinking with a new routine, but when they’re next relative dies, relapse is inevitable. They NEED alcohol to medicate them because otherwise they can’t deal with the stress. Or, more specifically, they FEEL they need to be medicated.

But when an alcoholic goes to Alcoholics Anonymous, they see other people. They hear their stories. They think, “I’m just like this guy… and it worked for him. Maybe it can work for me.”

You need to instill the belief that change is possible. If you’re my client, I’m not going to let you assume you have to stay unhealthy. I’m going to find the bright spots and show you that change is possible.


Actionable Steps

Take out a piece of paper.

Choose a habit you want to change. Why do you want to change it? When does it happen? What is the cue that sparks this behavior? What reward do you crave? Write those down.

Draw out your own habit loop. A cue triggers a habit which leads to a reward which reinforces the loop.

Now what is going to be your replacement habit? Make sure it still gives you the reward you crave.

Draw your new habit loop. Make it bigger than the last one.

Do you believe you can change this habit? Why or why not? If alcoholics and gamblers can change, why can’t you?

What do you do around the time that you succumb to your bad habit? Is it at the end of the day when you’ve used up all of your willpower (see p. 137 in the book or this whole other book)? How can you avoid that moment of weakness?

You’ve got a great place to start from. Go make change.

This book is a staple in anyone’s library. Tell me your plan for habit change in the comments below.

P.S. Who do you know that wants to change a habit? Do me a favor and send this to them.

Book Review: Influence by Robert Cialdini

Rationale for reading: I have not read much on persuasion or sales. I thought this would help keep my training clientele accountable. Recommendation from Zach Moore.

Book summary: To influence others and to avoid being influenced when undesired, understand the psychological principles of reciprocation, commitment, consistency, social proof, liking, authority, and scarcity.

Review summary: I went suit shopping and saw this book unfold before my very eyes.

Suggested audience: Anyone who interacts with people, especially if you coach them to change their habits.


A few days after reading this book I went shopping for a suit. Without luck at the cheap places, my friend and I went to Men’s Wearhouse to browse and were immediately accosted by an attractive sales woman. As she began talking, I saw this book unfold.



The idea of this chapter is that if you do someone a favor, they feel obligated to reciprocate it, regardless of whether or not they even like you. Saleswoman Katie went after this right off the bat.

The conversation sounded something like…
Katie: “Hey, we have great suits. Let me show you this one.”
Lance: “Oh wow, this one is great. How much is it?”
Katie: “$800.”
Lance: “Haha, we better look at the cheaper stuff.”
Katie: “Okay, let me show you this $500 suit.”

I then proceeded to call her out on this tactic, which she performs subconsciously. It’s like it’s in her DNA.


Commitment and Consistency

Commitment and consistency are obtained when you have a prospect stick around for a longer duration of time. If I’ve committed more time to Katie, I will consistently come back to her for all of my suiting needs. The fact that we were there for hours is one part of it.

Another way to get commitment and consistency is by getting me to agree with anything.

She could ask if I like the $800 suit that I have on (obviously I do). She could ask if I’m enjoying my suit shopping experience. She could even ask if I am enjoying the nice weather! Getting me to commit in any way will help her chances of closing the sale.

Smile for the camera!




Social Proof

Social proof is fascinating to see in action. Like the time my school sent out reports that an unidentified man with a gun was on campus. One person says, “Meh, someone made it up,” and soon nobody thinks it’s a big deal. People just keep walking about. The effect snowballs.

In sales, a busy store gives social proof – especially when customers are asking her for advice. This store wasn’t particularly busy at this hour, so Katie was unable to obtain social proof in this way.

But there’s another way.

Katie, as a wardrobe consultant, values the clothes she wears. The principle of social proof suggests that we want to be like others. So in this case, when Katie talks about how she would “never wear something like that” or how I would “be the life of the party in this”, I am forced to think there must be something to her view and I start to think, “Well, if someone who dresses well thinks this would work, then I should buy this!”



Liking is probably the easiest and most straightforward of the principles from “Influence.”

If I like Katie, I’m more likely to buy from her. So she dresses up, makes me laugh, likes my friend, and matches my level of speech (i.e. she doesn’t swear until I start to swear). Even if what she’s asking of me is uninteresting, I might do it because she’s my friend.

Most of this factor is dependent on the individual and your ability to read them. Some people respond to playful joking, and others want you to be a professional.



The authority principle is what is in play when your boss asks you to do something. Or the reason you pick the guy with the doctorate over the guy with the master’s degree. With authority comes reassurance.

Katie demonstrated her authority by giving advice in a stern tone. “Don’t you ever wear this with any other set of pants. Ever. We record your address and I will hunt you down.” Her strong opinion reinforces to me that she knows what she’s talking about. Plus I feel the need to be obedient because I don’t want to let her down.

Everyone in the fitness industry is trying to have authority; there’s a sense of trust that accompanies the tagline “from a NY Times best selling author”. This says nothing about how good of a trainer he or she might actually be, but proving you’re qualified is necessary to reach customers.



Scarcity is a principle that must work well because I see it everywhere.

“Act NOW before this deal expires.”

With Katie, the sheer fact that there were only three suits in the building that fit my body displays the scarcity of the product. Finding more suits that fit me doesn’t lend well to this principle (then there’s just too many to choose from).

Katie mentioned that earlier in the day, she had a guy very close to my size come and wipe out the inventory. Later I find a suit I really like and I get worried that it will be gone if I don’t purchase immediately. However unlikely, it still could happen, and that thought weighs on a consumer’s mind.

This principle will be harder to incorporate with clientele in terms of getting them closer to their goals. Selling them on a group who’s signup period will end on a set date and who’s class size is limited will be a good way to make sure a potential client becomes an actual client. Without a signup, I cannot help someone, and buyer competition funnels in those who are more dedicated, giving us the best group possible.



So how am I going to use these to help others accomplish their goals? Let’s break it down.

  • Reciprocation: The best avenue I see to engage reciprocity is by putting out free material. Even if it’s my best stuff. You’re going to try on a suit before you buy it, right?
  • Commitment and Consistency: If you commit to my newsletter, I know that my message is more likely to reach you. I would like as many people on this list because it allows us to form a more personal connection. The site becomes more of an environment than a billboard.
  • Social proof: I want you to know that your friends are here and they like being here. This is the reason that I want the site to be a community; communities stick together and help each other.
  • Liking: I try to be an interesting person – mostly just because then I am more happy. Not everyone will like you, but I’ll be the best me I can be!
  • Authority: Getting results and writing other places will be my next step here. Per the suggestion by an IFAST client, we may be getting shirts that say, “Lance is my boss.” If you want to get on the pre-order list, send me an email (
  • Scarcity: There’s only so much I can get done in my waking hours. If you want to ensure your spot, act now. Putting it off to tomorrow means you’ll never do it.

Understand that none of these factors were enough to make me purchase because I was not brought up as a high roller, but I could literally feel the energy in the room changing. I would have never even amused the idea of a $500 suit if left to my own devices. I would say this means Katie wants a better lead than someone like me, but it could speak to the efficacy of the principles presented in the book.

Pick up a copy of “Influence” here.

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