How habits take shape in our brains—and how we can override them with new and (hopefully) better habits—is the subject of an exciting new book called The Power of Habits by New York Times writer Charles Duhigg.
I started reading it a couple of weeks ago and, ever the evangelist, have been talking about it to just about anyone who will listen since. You should all check it for yourselves, but here’s the opening premise:
For an act to become a habit, there must be a CUE, followed by a ROUTINE, and finishing with some sense of REWARD. When we start craving the reward before it happens, the act is transformed into a habit and imprinted so deep in our brains (literally) that even in some cases of severe brain damage, where most everything is forgotten, habits can still survive.
Example of a habit loop in action: If you’re a smoker—and FYI the lines between habits and addiction can often become blurred—talking on the phone might be a cue for you, the routine involves lighting up as you gab, and the feeling of reward could come from the nicotine itself or maybe the association between smoking and socializing.
The book posits—backed by exhaustive research—that if you want to change a habit, you must create a new one in its stead. So maybe instead of lighting a cigarette, you pick up a pencil and doodle while you’re on the phone, and when you’re off you admire your artistic skill and take pride in it. OK, pretty dumb example, but you know where I’m going with this. And if you don’t, Duhigg has created a helpful infographic on his blog (partially pictured above) to help people change their habits.
How does any of this relate to shampoo, or more importantly Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, that notoriously sketchy and stripping ingredient? For those not familiar with SLS (or its cousin SLES), it’s the stuff that makes most products foam and studies have shown that it’s often contaminated with a carcinogen. It’s also so harsh that it wreaks havoc on skin and scalps.
But part of why it was added to shampoos (and toothpastes, body washes and so many other things) is that studies by major personal care companies showed that consumers associated that foamy feeling with a reward (I’m oversimplifying here, but that’s the jist). And sure enough, if you ask anyone who’s ever tried natural shampoos, they all miss that foaming feeling at first. I’ve even had people tell me they’re addicted to it!
Can you think of other products that use the habit loop to sell more stock? Exfoliation comes to mind—people definitely crave that feeling! And just for fun: Any habits you’re trying to break these days?