I recently read a book called The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business,” by Charles Duhigg. I think that many folks in early recovery, or in contemplation of recovery, will find this book enormously useful. It uses a number of real-life vignettes to illustrate the power of habit, how habits form, and how they can be changed. One of the most intriguing concepts in the book is that of “keystone habits,” seemingly trivial habits that – if altered somehow – create a cascade effect that renders other, more pervasive and intractable habits, amenable to change. Another crucial concept is that actually believing that you have within your power the ability to change your habits is an absolute prerequisite to changing them.
I think that this selection from the last chapter of the book does a fine job summarizing his thesis, and I have copied it for you below:
“Habits are not as simple as they appear. As I’ve tried to demonstrate throughout this book, habits – even once they are rooted in our minds – aren’t destiny. We can choose our habits, once we know how. Everything we know about habits, from neurologists studying amnesiacs and organizational experts remaking companies, is that any of them can be changed, if you understand how they function.
“Hundreds of habits influence our days – they guide how we get dressed in the morning, talk to our kids, and fall asleep at night; they impact what we eat for lunch, how we do business, and whether we exercise or have a beer after work. Each of them has a different cue and offers a unique reward. Some are simple and others are complex, drawing upon emotional triggers and offering subtle neurochemical prizes. But every habit, no matter its complexity, is malleable. The most addicted alcoholics can become sober. The most dysfunctional companies can transform themselves. A high school dropout can become a successful manager.
“However, to modify a habit, you must decide to change it. You must consciously accept the hard work of identifying the cues and rewards that drive the habits’ routines, and find alternatives. You must know that you have control and be self-conscious enough to use it – and every chapter in this book is devoted to illustrating a different aspect of why that control is real.
“[A]lmost all the . . . patterns that exist in most people’s lives – how we eat and sleep and talk to our kids, how we unthinkingly spend our time, attention, and money – those are habits we know exist. And once you understand that habits can change, you have the freedom – and the responsibility – to remake them. Once you understand that habits can be rebuilt, the power of habit becomes easier to grasp, and the only option left is to get to work.”
Joseph A. Mott, M.D., J.D.