The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg, is based on the latest brain science, but its research also shows something very surprising you might not have predicted in this day and age. We’ll get to that in a second.
Duhigg’s uses stories and brain-injury case studies to illustrate principles of change. He charts the discoveries over the past few decades of where memory is stored in the brain.
Then the book takes a turn, as he describes how the “basal ganglia,” responsible for more primitive brain function, allows one patient to learn new habits and memories even after the part of his brain responsible for short-term memory had been destroyed by a virus.
This discovery led to the following approach for habit change. These strategies work with the brain, leveraging ingrained habits to create healthier ones. He illustrates, using NFL football coach Tony Dungy’s approach to changing players’ habits on the field. Dungy worked with three basic parts: 1) Recognize triggers of a behavior 2) Choose a new response 3) Reward following through.
Now the surprise. After showing case after case of change using these strategies, the author demonstrates how–apart from belief–lasting change is impossible. In Dungy’s case, his system for changing deeply engrained habits only went so far until after the death of his son in 2006. That event instilled a new level of trust in Dungy’s leadership. Trust is the plainest definition of what it means to believe. That season, Dungy led his team to win the Superbowl. His system for change finally shifted team culture.
Perhaps it’s not so surprising—the role of belief in change. Lasting change is bigger than us. At the very least, it requires an energizing vision. But the role of belief is not just smoke and mirrors to “trick” the brain, distracting it from old patterns. If we’re honest with ourselves, it’s evident: belief is part of human design. Go figure.
Note: I get no kickbacks for a book recommended here. If I mention one, it’s because it stands out.