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Video: How retailers cash in on your habits

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    >>> for groceries, brushing your teeth, driving to work. they are part of everyday life . you do these things without even thinking twice, but for compani companies, your habits can be used to sell products and find success. charles duhig is an investigative reporterr from the new york times an author of "the power of habit." good to see you.

    >> thanks for having me.

    >> let me start with a quote from the book. william james once said 99/100 of our activity is purely automatic. our life is nothing but a mass of habits. why is that important?

    >> because our habits guide what we do on a daily basis. our daily choices have a huge impact. in the last 15 years we have learned about how habits work for the first time. we have learned the neurology of habits and it influenced everything.

    >> when we use the word "habit" for this segment how do we define that.

    >> habit is a choice you made, stopped making but continue acting on it every day.

    >> as consumers we have habits and companies are astute at learning them and acting on them. the headline that's coming out of the book that you will hear over and over is this one -- how target, the scortore, found out a teenage girl was pregnant before her father did. take me behind the headline.

    >> every habit as three parts. a cue or a trigger. behavior, routine. and a reward. target uses this to identify shopping habits and they can predict which shoppers are pregnant. they figured out a girl was pregnant before her dad did.

    >> the girls sign up for a registry at the store and target watches when they buy things like lotions, cotton balls, supplements. based on the amount they are buying they can predict the due date.

    >> exactly right. it's not just companies that use this. if you teach your 5-year-old to make their bed, it pays off when they are in the 6th grade doing homework.

    >> getting back to target and other businesses, that's a personal piece of information. do you feel these companies are crossing a line?

    >> i don't know if they are crossing a line. people have become accustomed to handing over data at this point. shopping habits. the more we learn about how habits work, the more we learn how it works within families and companies. the more comfortable people are with everyone knowing.

    >> there are people who go to starbucks two, three times a day. people say they like the coffee. you think it is other reasons.

    >> we know starbucks sells alongside with the latte customer service . you go because the barista smiles at you. starbucks teaches them willpower habits so even at the end of a shift they have the ability to give you the pep you expect for a $4 coffee.

    >> that's why they have repeat customers.

    >> exactly right.

    >> so companies are using our habits to be more successful. how do we use our habits and the knowledge of them to become better people and more successful?

    >> if we identify the cues and rewards around habits we can change our behavior. i had a bad habit of eating cookies every afternoon.

    >> a man after my own heart.

    >> i talked to experts. they said, look at the cue. i was eating it at about 3:30. what's the reward? it wasn't the cookie. i got to chat with colleagues. so i changed the habit. we explain how to do it in the book. now i go and gossip for ten minutes instead of eating a cookie and i lost 12 pounds as a result.

    >> applying it to other portions of life, how difficult is it? you changed your habit, stopped eating the cookie. it's not that easy. you make it sound easy.

    >> it's not easy. but once you understand how a habit is structured you can do it. and for instance, eating dinner with your family. that's a keystone habit. it sets up other patterns in people's lives so kids end up doing homework earlier, getting to bed on time, doing better in school. if you change one habit, the right habit you can unlock patterns.

    >> the fact is there may be people watching that watch this show out of habit. we want to be careful about teaching people how to change things too much.

    >> there are good habits and bad habits . good habits make

Random House
TODAY books
updated 2/27/2012 3:14:37 PM ET 2012-02-27T20:14:37

In "The Power of Habit," Charles Duhigg explores and exposes how habits essentially rule our lives. By learning how to shape them ourselves, we can entirely turn our lives around. Here's an excerpt.

I first became interested in the science of habits eight years ago, as a newspaper reporter in Baghdad. The U.S. military, it occurred to me as I watched it in action, is one of the biggest habit-formation experiments in history. Basic training teaches soldiers carefully designed habits for how to shoot, think, and communicate under fire. On the battlefield, every command that’s issued draws on behaviors practiced to the point of automation. The entire organization relies on endlessly rehearsed routines for building bases, setting strategic priorities, and deciding how to respond to attacks. In those early days of the war, when the insurgency was spreading and death tolls were mounting, commanders were looking for habits they could instill among soldiers and Iraqis that might create a durable peace.

Charles Duhigg on profits and your habits

I had been in Iraq for about two months when I heard about an officer conducting an impromptu habit modification program in Kufa, a small city ninety miles south of the capital. He was an army major who had analyzed videotapes of recent riots and had identified a pattern: Violence was usually preceded by a crowd of Iraqis gathering in a plaza or other open space and, over the course of several hours, growing in size. Food vendors would show up, as well as spectators. Then, someone would throw a rock or a bottle and all hell would break loose.

When the major met with Kufa’s mayor, he made an odd request: Could they keep food vendors out of the plazas? Sure, the mayor said. A few weeks later, a small crowd gathered near the Masjid al-Kufa, or Great Mosque of Kufa. Throughout the afternoon, it grew in size. Some people started chanting angry slogans. Iraqi police, sensing trouble, radioed the base and asked U.S. troops to stand by. At dusk, the crowd started getting restless and hungry. People looked for the kebab sellers normally filling the plaza, but there were none to be found. The spectators left. The chanters became dispirited. By 8 P.M., everyone was gone.

When I visited the base near Kufa, I talked to the major. You wouldn’t necessarily think about a crowd’s dynamics in terms of habits, he told me. But he had spent his entire career getting drilled in the psychology of habit formation.

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At boot camp, he had absorbed habits for loading his weapon, falling asleep in a war zone, maintaining focus amid the chaos of battle, and making decisions while exhausted and overwhelmed. He had attended classes that taught him habits for saving money, exercising each day, and communicating with bunkmates. As he moved up the ranks, he learned the importance of organizational habits in ensuring that subordinates could make decisions without constantly asking permission, and how the right routines made it easier to work alongside people he normally couldn’t stand. And now, as an impromptu nation builder, he was seeing how crowds and cultures abided by many of the same rules. In some sense, he said, a community was a giant collection of habits occurring among thousands of people that, depending on how they’re influenced, could result in violence or peace. In addition to removing the food vendors, he had launched dozens of different experiments in Kufa to influence residents’ habits. There hadn’t been a riot since he arrived.

“Understanding habits is the most important thing I’ve learned in the army,” the major told me. “It’s changed everything about how I see the world. You want to fall asleep fast and wake up feeling good? Pay attention to your nighttime patterns and what you automatically do when you get up. You want to make running easy? Create triggers to make it a routine. I drill my kids on this stuff. My wife and I write out habit plans for our marriage. This is all we talk about in command meetings. Not one person in Kufa would have told me that we could influence crowds by taking away the kebab stands, but once you see everything as a bunch of habits, it’s like someone gave you a flashlight and a crowbar and you can get to work.”

The major was a small man from Georgia. He was perpetually spitting either sunflower seeds or chewing tobacco into a cup. He told me that prior to entering the military, his best career option had been repairing telephone lines, or, possibly, becoming a methamphetamine entrepreneur, a path some of his high school peers had chosen to less success. Now, he oversaw eight hundred troops in one of the most sophisticated fighting organizations on earth.

“I’m telling you, if a hick like me can learn this stuff, anyone can. I tell my soldiers all the time, there’s nothing you can’t do if you get the habits right.”

In the past decade, our understanding of the neurology and psychology of habits and the way patterns work within our lives, societies, and organizations has expanded in ways we couldn’t have imagined fifty years ago. We now know why habits emerge, how they change, and the science behind their mechanics. We know how to break them into parts and rebuild them to our specifications. We understand how to make people eat less, exercise more, work more efficiently, and live healthier lives. Transforming a habit isn’t necessarily easy or quick. It isn’t always simple.

But it is possible. And now we understand how.

Excerpted from The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. Copyright © 2012 by Charles Duhigg. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

© 2012 MSNBC Interactive


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