Interview with Chals Dahigg: How Strength of Habit Can Help Achieve Your Goals

Original author: Chris Bailey
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Earlier, we introduced you to the translations of Chris Bailey articles that he wrote as he developed his project a Year of Productivity - they are available on our blog under the section “ Personal Productivity ”.

In addition, Chris is also the author of a guide whose goal is to help people achieve their “New Year’s goals.” Many of us on New Year's Eve think about what good and useful happened last year and what we would like to achieve in the future. In his guide, Chris collected useful tips from previous articles, talked with many interesting people and asked them the question: “How to achieve your New Year’s goals?”

Today we would like to share one of these interviews - Chris talked with Charles Dachigg, author of the famous book “The Power of Habit.” Charles believes that the formation of good habits is one of the main parameters for achieving the goal.

So, give the floor to Chris!

Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Charles Dahigg on how you can use your habits to better achieve your New Year goals. Charles is a Pulitzer Prize reporter for the New York Times and author of Strength of Habit. The book version today is widely available on bookshelves.

Once you have set goals for the new year, it is absolutely necessary to have good habits if you want to keep your New Year’s promises. Work habits determine how productive you can be, eating habits - how healthy you become, habits to train - how many kilograms of weight you can lose or gain, and habits in general determine how you live your life. In fact, according to Charles Dahigg, the author of Strength of Habit, at least “40-45% of our daily activities are habits,” which means that “if you don't take care of good habits, you won’t achieve your goals” .

“Loop of habit”

In our conversation, Dahigg said that every habit can be divided into three components. “First, the stimulant / stimulus is triggered, which is the trigger for automatic behavior, then the usual behavior itself, and finally, the reward.” In support of this, many neurological studies were carried out. “When a stimulus stimulus, behavior and reward for the nervous system become interlinked, a neural chain forms that connects these three things in our head.” This is why habits are so persistent, and why it is so hard to break with bad habits.


Although it’s difficult to get rid of a habit (studies have shown that it’s much easier to change an old habit, instead of trying to eradicate it), you can use a scientific approach to introduce new habits into your life or change existing programmed behavior that you are tired of.

Here's how to do both.

Personally, I think this: the first thing you need to do after you set a New Year’s goal is to transform it into a habit. For example, instead of a goal to train more, form a habit of walking for a 15-minute walk to the coffee shop and back every time the lunch time is right. Or, instead of deciding to lose weight, decide to replace your morning coffee latte with sugar with green tea.
Of course, it’s easier said than done, so I asked Charles how to form a new habit. He replied that you need to find several “stimulant-stimuli” that will start the habit, and then reward yourself after you perform the action itself.

1. Find several stimulants

To instill a new habit, Dahigg recommends "carefully think out the stimulants and rewards that you want to see in your life that will stimulate you to behave correctly."

According to Charles, stimulants that trigger a sequence of habit elements fall into one of five categories:

1. A certain time of day
2. A certain place
3. The presence of certain people
4. A certain emotion
5. The action, which took the form of a ritual,

Dachigg recommends introducing into his life several stimulants from several categories of triggers. “Ultimately, your brain will hook on one of them, but you need to give it a choice.”

This is easiest to illustrate by the example of the New Year's decision to do more physical exercises. “For example, you put your jogging form next to the bed to see it when you wake up, and you arrange with one of your best friends to go jogging on Wednesday at 8.30 in the morning.” In this example, there are several triggers — the time of day, place, and presence of certain people.

2. Reward yourself

After you have identified several stimulants that will be the triggers for starting your new habit, you should decide how you will reward yourself for performing the desired action.

Charles touched on how difficult it is to integrate new behavior into his daily routine. “Even if you think that you want to start doing physical exercises, your brain thinks that you are a liar and that in reality you do not like to train. Therefore, you need to accustom your brain to the fact that training is associated with something that you like, for example, a piece of chocolate, taking a long pleasant shower or 15 minutes on Facebook. It doesn’t matter what reward, the main thing is that it is really pleasant for you and that you allow it to yourself.

“Now compare this approach with how most people begin to train. One morning they wake up and go for a run, then return home and are late because they just spent 20 minutes running, and the children need to be gathered in the kindergarten / school, and now they are in stress and bustle doing their daily routine. It turns out that they are punishing themselves for training. After training, everything only gets more complicated, and this is the wrong approach, because we know that our nervous system is focused on rewards. ” Everything needs to be done gradually: for example, if you think that in the new year you need to work more, you should not immediately start working 90 hours a week , instead of the usual 40.

You must strengthen the connection between the stimulant, the action and the reward in your head. For example, Dahigg suggested the following: “When you start to train and return home after training or jogging, eat a small piece of chocolate.” At first glance, this may seem like paradoxical advice, but since rewards so well help you consolidate your habit, this is without a doubt reasonable advice in the long run.

Once you have decided on the stimulants that will trigger the sequence of habits and the right reward, after a while you will find that you have to spend less time and apply less willpower in order to stick to your decision. Although you may need patience in building new habits, the right stimulants and satisfying rewards will lead to the fact that after a while the right behavior will become more and more easily implemented and automatic.

Do not try to eradicate old habits - better change them

In the book “Strength of Habit,” Dahigg talks about how you can burn out, trying to overpower yourself with the help of willpower and force to fulfill promises. Willpower is one of your most valuable resources, and many studies have shown that it can be depleted, so it’s important to form automatic habits. Instead of trying to eradicate an old habit, Dahigg recommends changing it, which is much simpler and leads to greater success.

“As the reward stimulates the release of more neurotransmitters, neural connections become stronger and stronger, and the corresponding impulses are easier to transmit along the desired path. Therefore, when someone tries to eradicate a habit, he, in fact, tries to destroy the neural path due to willpower. It's pretty hard to change your brain. ”

Just as to adapt a new habit, to change an old one you need to start by defining a stimulant and a reward, but at the same time “find a new behavior that will be associated with them” (new action). Dahigg recommends that the stimulant and reward be as simple as possible, as habits can be very firmly rooted in the brain.

It is quite simple to determine stimulants (since they fall into one of the above categories), it can be more difficult to determine the rewards. For example, you have a habit of approaching a vending machine at work every morning. Your stimulant is probably the time of day, but determining the reward here is more difficult. For example, are you attracted to food because you are hungry? Or do you want to take a break from work, or maybe to diversify your morning somehow? In this case it worksthe theory of “tasks to be completed” - think about why you need to perform this or that action, and whether to perform it at all at the moment.

According to Charles, "once you have found the reward, you can change your behavior." In this particular example, depending on your reward, you can eat an apple if you are hungry, or take a walk outside if you need a break, or sit on Facebook for 15 minutes if you want some news. ”

Once you have decided on the deep reward, you can make sure that “the stimulant and the reward remain the same”, and that “only the behavior really changes.”


Get ready for difficulties

According to Charles, one of the important points in the process of creating new habits is to “be prepared for crises” and the obstacles that you may encounter on the way to goals.

“Very often people start training, and then one day at the end of the month they are almost going to go for a run, and then
something unexpected happens, for example, they go on a trip. Maybe they forgot to take their jogging clothes with them, or it’s hard at the hotel to decide where to go for a run. You do not know where the nearest gym is. And these little obstacles become big obstacles, and suddenly the behavior model falls apart and does not come back to it. ”

“An obstacle is often easy to handle in advance and difficult when faced with it in the present moment. Studies have shown that when you use a loop of habit and are ready for difficulties, you are more likely to develop a new habit. ”

Act carefully

At the end of the interview, when I asked Charles Dahigg what secret of productivity he would share in the new year, he spoke about the importance of analyzing and understanding how everything works in life. “The truth is that every day we do a lot of things that we don’t pay attention to, and this is good because it does not burden the mind.” On the other hand, “a better understanding of what drives your behavior really allows you to change that behavior, and it has a significant impact on how you change day by day.

Understanding your habits is without a doubt one of the best ways to begin to become more aware and manage what drives your behavior in the New Year.

Good luck!

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