Habits vs. decisions: Why you do what you do

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Apr 112012

Habits vs. decisions: Why you do what you do

By Doris Nhan on April 10th, 2012 | Via SmartBlog on Leadership

SmartBrief is partnering with Big Think to create a weekly video spotlight in SmartBrief on Leadership called “VIP Corner: Video Insights Powered by Big Think.” This week, we’re featuring Charles Duhigg, author and investigative journalist.


A sharp awareness of the difference between a habit and a conscious decision could mean the difference between peace-keeping and daily riots, according to Charles Duhigg, a New York Times reporter and author.

Duhigg said the intrigue that spawned his recently penned book, “The Power of Habit,” came from a trip to a small city in Iraq, where an Army Major stopped yearlong city riots by removing kabob sellers from the plazas. Without the kabob sellers, hungry locals instead would go home for food — eliminating the need to crowd the streets. Understanding the simple habit of looking for food was a powerful tool for the major and formed the basis of Duhigg’s interest in habit formation.

Duhigg cited a study, which found that nearly 45% of all daily behaviors are based on habit. By developing a keener sense of how — and why — someone chooses to take an action, you can start to develop a framework for predicting future patterns, Duhigg said.

For leaders, this could mean the difference between failure and success at a company: Is how your company functions truly the best course of action or did it develop simply because that’s the way it’s always been done?

“If you take this framework and sort of apply it and look at the behaviors that you do, for instance … why companies function in certain ways, why these dysfunctions emerge within a corporation, you can find these cues and rewards that kind of explain the behaviors,” Duhigg said.

Big Think is a forum in which top experts explore big ideas and core skills defining the 21st century. Learn more from its editors, fellows and guest speakers.


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