Another great piece in this weekend’s New York Times magazine, adapted from a forthcoming book, told the story of Andrew Pole, who analyzes retail behavior for the marketers at mega-retailer Target. The goal, of course, is to get shoppers to change their habits and buy more stuff at Target.
It’s fascinating stuff, however. Author Charles Duhigg describes the three-step process by which habits are formed:
First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain ﬁgure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future. Over time, this loop — cue, routine, reward; cue, routine, reward — becomes more and more automatic.
But habits aren’t destiny, pace the famous proverb that’s attributed to Gandhi, and the neuroscience that underpins Pole’s analysis can be used for more constructive purposes, too. Pole describes using it to break his mid-afternoon habit of going down to the cafeteria for a cookie. The secret was to determine that the reward he really sought was a bit of socialization: “When I walked to a colleague’s desk and chatted for a few minutes, it turned out, my cookie urge was gone.” He has since lost 21 pounds.
Are there habits that you’ve broken, or that you’re trying to break right now?