Catholic Summary of The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg

Saints are men and women who perform acts of heroic virtue habitually. In our journey to the heights of holiness, we need to create good habits so that God’s grace may transform us “from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Habits are the good soil for God’s grace to bear abundant fruit in our lives.

Always presupposing the necessity of grace, our daily conversion consists largely in changing bad habits into good habits. Think of this as a way, as Fr. Thomas Dubay says, to cooperate with what God wants to give but not impose.

“Put simply, conversion is a basic and marked improvement on the willing level of the human person. Even more pointedly, it is a fundamental change in our willed activities from bad to good, from good to better, and from better to best… a change from vice to virtue” (Dubay, Deep Conversion/Deep Prayer, 13).

Since we have a remarkable resistance to significant moral change happening in our lives, we need all the help we can get in undergoing the deep conversion our Lord calls us to undergo daily.

In his book, The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg gives us some helpful tips in creating good habits.

The Habit Loop

Every habit is made up of a 3 part “habit loop”:

  1. Cue: Cues trigger your brain to start an activity (alarm clock ringing).
  2. Routine: The activity you perform as a result of the cue (take a morning shower).
  3. Reward: A feeling of success (clean).

Our brain creates these habit loops to save energy (think about how easy it is now to drive your car). Duhigg says that about 40% of our daily activities are habitual and not conscious.

The power behind the formation of these habit loops are cravings – the craving for the reward at the end of the habit loop. Duhigg gives the example of the success of Pepsodent toothpaste – based entirely on creating a craving for the cool tingling sensation received after brushing.

“Keystone habits”

Some habits – known as “keystone habits” – have a positive spillover effect on other areas in your life. These “keystone habits” provide small wins that boost your belief in the ability to achieve other wins. Duhigg identifies willpower as an essential keystone habit. Willpower is like a muscle that you can strengthen daily.

“Thérèse had acquired the habit of smiling every time when, at work, she was disturbed by a Sister who came with or without reason, to ask her for some service. She noted this with humor in her last manuscript. She was ready for annoyance: “I want it; I count on it … so I am always happy” (Bernard Bro, Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, p. 62).

Some steps to change a habit

1: Identify the habit loop:

  • What is the cue? the routine? the reward? what craving powers this habit loop?

2: Redirect craving to another routine:

  • Rather than resisting the craving, we must redirect it to another activity that satisfies the same reward.

“Don’t try to be extremely disciplined right away. Above everything beware of your own confidence, lest you fall from a height of discipline because of lack of training. It is better to move ahead a little at a time. So then, withdraw from the pleasures of life little by little. Gradually destroy all your evil habits, lest you bring on yourself a mass of temptation by stirring up all your passions at once. When you have mastered one passion, then begin waging war against another. And before long you will get the better of them all.” ~ St. Basil

Related Links:

1: “How to Overcome Bad Habits” by Ven. Fulton J. Sheen

2: “The Seven Daily Habits of Holy Apostolic People” by Fr. John McCloskey

3: The Power of Habits by Matthew Kelly

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