Hacking Habits: How to Make New Behaviors Last for Good

I am blogging from Atlanta, Georgia at the 2014 Catalyst Conference. I have the honor of joining the Catalyst Blogger Team, and I’ll be publishing live notes and key insights on the speaker sessions. Speaker lineups include, Andy Stanley, Tim Keller, Christine Caine, Matt Chandler, Charles Duhigg and many more. I hope these insights will empower you to rise to the top.


We’re living in the golden age of neurology and how habits work. In the last decade, we’ve entered this golden age. 

The argument is that every habit that can be changed. How habits function is an interesting mix of science, passion, and faith. 

How habits function?

40-50% of what we do everything is not a choice, but a habit. 

You brain lapses into an automatic behavior and goes to sleep. 

The Habit Loop - Charles - Duhigg - Catalyst-Conference

The Habit Loop – every single habit has three parts. 

A three-step loop: 

  • 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. 

Some habits seem to matter and ripple effects. 

Keystone habits – habits that affect other habits and behaviors. 

e.g., People who exercise changes our spending habits, time management habits etc. 

How do you tap into the keystone habit within you?

HPBCD – Chemical

P&G Researcher would use HPBCD chemical and with 3 years of research and 7 million investments. He would make Febreze. Febreze becomes the most disappointing, biggest product that fails in the P&G lineup. Researchers began to experiment new ways. People they sell to already have cleaning habits. Let’s take an advantage of an existing habit. 

The cue – the need for bad smell 

The routine – to spray the Frebreze 

The reward – give some aroma into it. 

Febreze sales explode. $200 million in first year, $1 billion a year today. 

Lesson: Make sure the reward is actually rewarding.

The reason why habits are so difficult to change is because the reward is not actually rewarding. 

How do you implement change? 

Starbucks sells customer service, not coffee. Howard Schultz says Starbucks sells you an experience. 

Marshmallow Experience

Brings marshmallow in a room. Ask 4 year olds to wait for 10 minutes and when you come back promise them you’ll give them another one. Kids who waited and mustered the willpower became the most successful. 

If you give kids willpower, there are more likely to succeed than anything else. Willpower can be taught. It can be developed. If you will make willpower into a habit, that’s key. 

Lesson: The most powerful rewards emotions. 

Question: What habits do you need to cultivate to be a change maker? 

About the Speaker: In 2013, Charles Duhigg was awarded the 2013 Pulitzer Prize in Explanatory Reporting as a member of the New York Times staff for the series “The iEconomy,” which examined Apple’s manufacturing practices overseas and what they can tell us about the state of the American economy today. Charles is also the winner of the National Academies of Sciences, National Journalism, and George Polk awards, and a frequent contributor to television and radio, including the PBS Newshour, Frontline, Dr. Oz, This American life, and various programs on CNBC and NPR. He is a graduate of Yale University and the Harvard Business School. Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit spent over a year on the New York Times bestseller list.