February 25, 2013 by nicolerothier
Hello my fellow Nerdazons (get it, nerd + amazon) I know, I’m super smart. It must be all those buh-oks! Speaking of those, it is time to discuss the wonderful book, The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. For the past month, I have been nose deep within these pages, absorbing as much information as possible. And, trust me, there sure is a lot. The first thing that came to mind when I finished? “Oh my god, he is right.” So put on your glasses, get out your pen and paper, and brace yourselves for a whole lotta nerdiness:
Charles Duhigg starts out explaining the habit loop, and provides us with pretty little pictures to facilitate our understanding (how sweet). Not only are the pictures cute at times (note the happy monkey with his juice), but they are also simple. If Chemistry teachers around the world had taught with pictures similar to these, we’d all be geared towards becoming master Chemists. Regardless, the great thing about the habit loop is just one “formula” can be applied to all sorts of habits such as smoking and overeating. One formula to rule them all!
So, in the case of an overeating loop – you are bored at your desk. You automatically get up, walk to the cafeteria, buy a cookie and talk with others who are also in the cafeteria, resulting in a rewarding feeling. Now, four months later, your pantyhose are a little tight or you’ve ditched your belt. Those cookies are sometimes monsters
That break you take where you get your cookie and socialize with others – what is driving that? Duhigg suggests experimentation: if you are bored, go for a walk or socialize away from food; if you are hungry, eat an apple. Figure out what is really driving your routine and what will satisfy you without consequence. What a solution. See more habit-changing solutions here.
As Darlene and I excitedly discussed this book in Hu Kitchen (the Paleo-ist of New York), we delved deeper into the implications of what Duhigg was bringing up. Between intermittent exclamations from Darlene “THE FRENCH KNOW WHAT THEY ARE DOING,” (she’s reading a book about French food culture) and some Facebook breaks, we responded to Duhigg’s message:
First and foremost is the conditioning of food to be a reward, band-aid, friend, therapist, and even an enemy. Why do we consider food a reward? Often times I find myself thinking, I have been working so hard, I deserve this Starbucks (filled with crap, but oh so yummy) hot chocolate. But why? Food is (or should be) a nutritional substance we put into our bodies in order to function. A reward is a shopping spree (at least to me), not something that will take away from all the hard work I put in leading me to deserve this “reward” (what a habit loop that is). We need to move away from food as much more than something nutritional – it keeps us alive and kicking – does it really need to do more than that?
I then began thinking about other ways the book rang true to me, even in my personal life. Duhigg talked about toothpaste and how companies discovered that people associated a tingly feeling in their mouth after brushing their teeth as “clean.” Similarly, shampoo and soaps that lather give us a clean feeling – we know it is working. My mom uses super natural, organic toothpaste. Whenever I use her toothpaste, I have to brush my teeth several times, and I still feel as though my teeth aren’t clean. We need that tactile feedback. How are these products tingling and lathering? Well, those god forsaken chemicals. These little demons are in our toothpaste and shampoo, making us “clean,” or rather, chalk full of chemicals. I wouldn’t want to brush my teeth with nuclear waste, so why would I want to brush them with additives. It made both Darlene and I think, what “benign” (or not so) chemicals are in other seemingly harmless products. Yikes.
From toothpaste on steroids, to murders and gamblers, this book seriously covers all bases. One of the people mentioned in the book becomes addicted to gambling, the casino offering her a line of credit and free nights at the hotel. She slowly squanders all of her money on blackjack, leaving her and her family in heaps of debt. On the other side, a man who frequently sleepwalks goes camping with his wife. In the middle of the night, he believes someone is trying to murder her, so he strangles the intruder. Yet there was never an intruder, and instead strangles and kills his own wife in a bad fit of sleep-murder. Both of these reactions and habits come from the same place, the basal ganglia. So I leave you with this question: who is guilty of a crime, the gambler or the murder? Duhigg found that the majority of people felt more sympathy for the widower who strangled his own wife than for the wife who couldn’t seem to get a grip and control her need for gambling for her family’s sake. However, not everyone had this reaction.
My family easily gets addicted to anything: people, places, food, feelings, cars, trees, rocks. Yup, anything. When I read (and compared) these two stories, I would consider myself to be on the less “popular” side. I wholeheartedly believe the gambler is a victim. The casino played on her uncontrollable addiction, unfairly coercing her to spend every penny she had. They knew her weakness, they targeted it, and shot until she had nothing left to give them. Maybe it is because of the environment and family I was raised, but I found it very interesting the different situations we sympathize with considering our past.
Please (please, pretty please) share your thoughts on either the book, our response, or even rainbows – we just want to hear from you! Also, please join us next month on our new nerdy adventure into The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan. Power to the nerds!