The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg

If you want to change your habits, this video is for you. 

But why create new habits? Or what’s the reason to change existing habits?

The quality of our habits directly influences the quality of our life. Aristotle said that we are what we repeatedly do.

And Gandhi even once said that

Your beliefs become your thoughts

Your thoughts become your words

Your words become your actions

Your actions become your habits

Your habits become your values

And your values become your destiny

So it’s very important to create good habits. My name is Seiiti Arata, founder of Arata Academy and in this video we’re going to go through the main concept of Charles Duhigg’s book The Power of Habit [LINK].

Pick up a notebook and a pen to write things down, starting with this question: 


First we need to understand how the habit is formed. To make it easier to memorize, we’ll use the name Triangular Habit, since the habit is formed by three elements. This is worth writing down in your notebook.

The first component is the TRIGGER. It’s a stimulus that makes the brain understand that it can go into automatic mode and choose the more fitting habit.

The second one is ROUTINE, the sequence of activities that can either be physical, intellectual or emotional.

Third it’s REWARD, which will help you improve the brain, showing if that triangular sequence should be used again in the future.

And besides these three components, if we want to create a new habit we need some expectation. I have to wish for the reward to the point that I will perform the routine each time the trigger shows up.

For example, imagine that I wanted to create the habit of performing a small stretching session each morning, just 5 minutes to breathe deeply, keep my mind empty, improving my focus and do some quick stretch. It’s a positive habit, no doubt.

But how do I create this habit? Firstly, I look for a kind of reward that I really desire. It can be for example my morning coffee or even brushing my teeth. For most people, these are examples of things they can’t do without. Since I really want to take my coffee and there’s no way I’m going out without brushing my teeth first, I establish that those actions are rewards after I perform my stretching ROUTINE.

And how do I use the trigger? It can be for example a little mat that I leave next to my bed. So there’s no way around it: when I wake up, the mat that reminds me of my stretching routine is there already. 

This is an example of a visual trigger combined with the temporal trigger. There are different types of triggers that I will share with you with more detail, but first I want to make this concept clear: a triangular habit is composed of a trigger, a routine and a reward, as long as there is an expectation.

The second important concept for today’s video is HABIT REVERSION THERAPY.

If I have a habit that’s not good for me, instead of trying to make that habit magically disappear, it’s better to modify the habit. Basically, I will keep the trigger and the reward, but I will change the routine.

Do you remember the concept of the Triangular Habit? There’s a trigger that leads me to a routine to achieve a given result.

To change habits, I have to ask myself: “Which results do I want?” 

First example: If I’m having a snack in the afternoon, am I doing it because I’m hungry or do I just want to distract myself and escape boredom?

If the trigger is being bored and the result I wish for is to lighten up, I can walk for a while, or talk to a colleague. That doesn’t add any calories to my diet and it gives me the result I want.

If I want to stop smoking, I also have to understand what I want as a result. Some people smoke to hang out with other smokers. Aren’t there other routines that I can implement which bring me a similar result? One common example is to chew gum to stop smoking, right – but WAIT, that by itself isn’t enough.

Just switching routines isn’t enough. There will be some stressful moments with a very big pressure to return to our old habit. And so that doesn’t happen, we need a strong belief that we can overcome that desire. Belief? That’s right.

That’s why organizations like AA use a lot of spiritual concepts and mention God in their procedures, because spirituality is something through which we strengthen the belief in a higher power that can help us when we need.

This element of belief is very important. It’s the stepping stone for the rest. If I don’t have a belief, I won’t even search for ways to change. 

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So I’ll repeat Gandhi’s quote, since it’s very fitting:

And Gandhi even once said that

Your beliefs become your thoughts

Your thoughts become your words

Your words become your actions

Your actions become your habits

Your habits become your values

And your values become your destiny

Look at how the belief is the starting point. Notice that you don’t really need to believe in God or a specific religion, but you need to believe that things can improve. Without improving, I won’t even give any thoughts to an issue, I won’t inform myself.

Without information, I can’t complement anything and therefore I won’t reap any rewards. 

Everything starts with belief and that’s why it’s important for you to see that it’s possible, by understanding the story of other people that managed to achieve results, since that strengthens our belief that it is possible.

If I want to stop smoking, besides finding a different routine that substitutes cigarettes, I need a support group. A group of other smokers trying to quit and ex-smokers that have done it, a community of sports lovers, a church group, well, a social group that helps me strengthen the belief that I can stay away from nicotine. And get help through that group when you are struggling with keeping the desired routine.

If want to lose weight, I have to study my habits and understand the reason for me to eat candy at the wrong moments. Why I eat more than I need to, why I choose the wrong foods. 

Logically, I have to have a basic understanding of nutrition and of healthy, active life, but on the habits’ side it’s also important to have mates that can walk or chat with us or any other activity that’s not just eating crap that only makes me fatter. If this group has a common goal of losing weight, better yet.

This first part of Arata Academy’s video was a quick summary for the general public that is curious about understanding their habits. If you want to keep watching, now I will go into more details on how to use that methodology and apply it in your life. 

The main tip I will give you is this one. Write it down.


The general principle of changing habits has this structure:

1. Identify the details of the Triangular Habit

2. Experiment with rewards

3. Isolate the trigger

4. Have a plan

Let’s examine each one of these four steps.

1. Identify the details

The first thing to do is to remember the structure of Triangular Habit, in which we have the trigger, followed by the routine and the reward.

Understanding this is very important. Self-knowledge is essential, since I need to understand what’s happening in order to bring about any changes. At Arata Academy’s courses we have a series of interactive activities with that purpose in mind. To access them, visit our site and register your email so that I send you the details.

See an example that illustrates the details that need to be identified:

Charles Duhigg brings up the example that in the afternoon he craved some chocolate cookies. He got up, went to the canteen, talked to friends that were nearby, ate the cookies and then he regretted it and felt fatter. It was a habit that he wanted to change but he was struggling with it.

In this case, he had to understand the trigger: was it hunger? Boredom? Low blood sugar levels? A need to do something else?

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And the reward is equally important: was it the chocolate cookie? The change of environment? The distraction? The interaction with colleagues? The sugar rush?

To really understand we need to do as a true scientist: we have to experiment. Write it down:

2. Experiment

We also say that rewards are important for satisfying desires. But what do we really desire? The rational mind has trouble finding a precise answer, because desire is emotional. 

The best way to discover the reward you desire is through experiments. We will try out different rewards.

If a person wants to go to the canteen and eat a chocolate cookie, it’s possible to experiment with different routines that hand out different rewards. Instead of going to the canteen, I can go to the street, walk around the block and go back to my desk without eating anything. This is an experiment – and we have to pay attention to how we feel.

So, some other day, we go to the canteen but instead of buying the cookie, we buy an apple and eat it right there. And another day, we buy the apple, but we go back to our desk and eat it there instead of at the canteen. And another day we drink coffee. Some other day, instead of the canteen, we go to some colleague’s desk, we chat for a while and we go back. Do you get it? That’s performing experiments, always paying attention.

Performing various experiments, we can better understand what we desire. Is it the pause? The walk? Something sweet? Interaction with other people?

And what’s “paying attention”? The Power of Habit has a tip that I thought was very cool, which has to do with noting things down. When we return, we pick up a notebook, we write down the date, the activity we performed and we will write THREE FEELINGS or three ideas that are on our mind. 

Imagine that you walked around the block. An example of three concepts that we feel when we return would be

1. I’m relaxed

2. I saw flowers

3. I’m satisfied: I’m not hungry

Do you get it? By writing down three concepts after performing the new routine, we have the means to better understand ourselves and to find some patterns.

Right after it, we will set up an alarm for fifteen minutes later, and then we will ask the question of this hour of truth: do we still crave that chocolate cookie from the example? 

Of course, you will change the “chocolate cookie” to the habit that you want to change. That alarm after the fifteen minutes is the test to see if you ended up satisfying the desire, if the result was adequate.

If you have followed the work I do at Arata Academy for a while, then you must’ve noticed that I always tell people to write things down. The quick explanation is that thoughts are chaotic and writing is organized. You will reach much better conclusions if you pick up a pen and just write. And as an added benefit, you will remember things better and you can go back to your notes later on.

3. Isolate the trigger

When we talk about a Triangular Habit that has a trigger, a routine and a reward, it’s very neat and simple, but just like I have to perform experiments to find out the true reward that I search for, I also need some extra effort to understand what the trigger is.

Generally there are five kinds of trigger that start the habit’s routine:

i) Location

ii) Time

iii) Emotional state

iv) Other people

v) Previous actions

So, what’s the task that we need to write down? Every time the routine is coming, which in our example is that irresistible desire to go to the canteen and buy the chocolate cookie, we will stop to think and write down:

i) Where am I? (Location)

ii) What time is it? (Time)

iii) Which emotional state am I feeling now?

iv) Who else is at my side?

v) Which action did I just perform?

What will happen after some ten days filling the notebook with the answers to those five questions? We will find common patterns, which triggers active my routine behaviour.

And that will help me on step four:

4. Have a plan

Only after fully understanding our Triangular Habit can we start to change our behaviour. We will prepare ourselves so that we know what to do when the trigger comes and choose a behaviour, a better routine… that will get us closer to the reward and the results we desire. This here is the moment of strategy.

If I followed the steps one, two and three we have just mentioned, I know exactly how my Triangular Habit is like. In this case, it’s that at three o’clock I have the routine of going to the canteen to buy a chocolate cookie and talk with friends. That indicates that my objective isn’t really the cookie but rather to socialize. 

So, the new plan will be that at three o’clock I will go to the desk of a colleague and I will chat for five minutes.

There. And I set up an alarm. This doesn’t mean it will be a breeze to change habits right away, but it will help a lot. And preserving, by believing that it is possible and by having a great desire to change, things will slowly get to the point in which we will do the new routine automatically.

This is the structure with the general principles. And I have some good news for you that has just watched this video until the end. I know we have talked a lot, after all The Power of Habit is a book with over four hundred pages. And here I showed you the most practical and important concepts, so I think it’s very important that you use an exercise spreadsheet from the e-book that Arata Academy created. It’s a totally free e-book and that you can download right now on the following link.

I hope this video has been helpful for you. My name is Seiiti Arata, of Arata Academy. I will wait for you on the page so that you can download the e-book we created for you. Cheers!