Are You A Creature of Habit?

Any act often repeated soon forms a habit; and habit allowed, steadily gains in strength. At first it may be but as a spider’s web, easily broken through, but if not resisted it soon binds us with chains of steel. ~ American theologian Tryon Edwards (1809–1894)

Most of the choices we make each day feel like well-considered decisions. In reality, ingrained habits determine much of what we think, speak and do.

Research has shown that the average person has approximately 40,000 thoughts per day, but 95% are the same ones experienced the day before. Other studies support the notion that 40% of our daily actions are based on habits and routines, not newly formed decisions.  The good news is that habits were learned and we can choose new habit to learn.

Our habits—what we say, eat and do, and how we organize our thoughts and work routines— have an enormous impact on our health, productivity, financial security and happiness.

In the last two decades, scientists have begun to understand how habits are formed, how they work and, more importantly, how we can change them. As New York Times staff writer Charles Duhiggreveals in The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business (Random House, 2012):

  1. Before Pepsodent entered the market in the early 20th century, only 7% of Americans had a tube of toothpaste in their medicine chests. A decade later, the number had jumped to 65%, thanks to Claude Hopkins’ legendary advertising campaigns. The tooth brushing habit was firmly established.
  2. Procter & Gamble turned a spray called Febreze into a billion-dollar brand by taking advantage of consumers’ habitual urge to “breathe happy” and eliminate odors.
  3. Alcoholics Anonymous reforms lives and enables people to live free from powerful addictions by redirecting self-destructive habits into constructive routines.
  4. By changing one small keystone habit (like safety precautionsor tracking and measuring),individuals and companies can influence everyday routines, leading to widespread results.

Habits emerge because the brain is constantly seeking ways to conserve energy. It looks for a cue that becomes the trigger for a habitual (unconscious) response. We are then rewarded with a blast of the pleasure-inducing neurotransmitter dopamine.

The process is a three-step physiological loop:

  1. A trigger event or cue occurs.
  2. There’s an automatic (unconscious) response (physical, mental or emotional).
  3. A reward helps the brain decide that this loop is worth remembering for the future.

Over time, the habit loop becomes increasingly automatic. The cue and reward become intertwined until a powerful sense of anticipation emerges.

This explains why habits are so powerful: They create neurological cravings.Most of the time, these cravings form so gradually that we’re not even aware they exist. We’re often blind to their influence because they have become unconscious.

Is Group Think Freezing the Lone Genius Out?

Groupthink, originally researched by Yale University psychologist Irving Janis, is a psychological phenomenon that occurs within groups. It’s a mode of thinking that occurs when a decision-making group’s desire for harmony overrides its realistic appraisal of alternatives.

Group members try to minimize conflict and reach a consensus, without critically evaluating additional ideas or viewpoints.

The negative cost of groupthink is loss of individual creativity, uniqueness and independent thinking. Organizationally, these consequences lead to costly errors in product launches, service policies and competitive strategies.

The New Groupthink

In “The Rise of the New Groupthink” (The New York Times, Jan.13, 2012), corporate attorney and author Susan Cain explains:

Solitude is out of fashion. Our companies, our schools and our culture are in thrall to an idea I call the New Groupthink, which holds that creativity and achievement come from an oddly gregarious place. Most of us now work in teams, in offices without walls, for managers who prize people skills above all. Lone geniuses are out. Collaboration is in. 

There’s a problem with the view that all work should be conducted by teams. Research strongly suggests that people are more creative when they enjoy privacy and freedom from interruption. As Cain writes:

Anyone who has ever needed noise-canceling headphones in her own office or marked an online calendar with a fake meeting in order to escape yet another real one knows what I’m talking about.

It’s one thing when each member works autonomously on his piece of the puzzle; it’s another to be corralled into endless meetings or conference calls conducted in offices that afford no respite from coworkers’ conversations or gazes.

What are your thoughts? I would love to hear your comments.