Read This Book

For me, the best books are not the ones that come out of left field, dazzling you with their original genius.

No, the best books are ones that, the instant you read them, feel titanically obvious. The ones that take something right under your nose and show it to you in a way that makes the whole world pivot and seem fresh.

That’s why you should read The Power of Habit, By Charles Duhigg, who also happens to be a friend.  Here’s the thesis:

Habits — automatic loops of behavior, triggered by cues, nourished by rewards, driven by cravings — make up a large percentage of our behavior.

To control your life, it helps to understand how these loops operate — to control the cues, rewards, and cravings. In short, the same neural machinery that makes you reach for a jelly donut can also make you reach for the tennis racquet or the math book, or perform a certain skill better, or build a productive practice routine.

In the book, Duhigg gives the example of the champion swimmer Michael Phelps. Phelps’s coach, the remarkable Bob Bowman, designed Phelps’s workouts as a series of strong, productive habits.

For example, each night Bowman would cue Phelps to “watch the videotape before you go to sleep and when you wake up.” There wasn’t an actual videotape — Bowman wanted Phelps to visualize himself performing every element of the perfect race. During practices, Bowman would have Phelps swim at race speed and tell him to “put in the videotape.”  Eventually, at races, Bowman would simply whisper, “Put in the videotape.” (We know what happened next.)

There’s a great deal more, but my main takeaway is the crucial importance of the central craving. Strong habits are not built around a vague desires, but rather around deep and powerful cravings that dominate our conscious and unconscious minds, our identities.

To build good habits, then, put the craving first and foremost. Figure it out. Define it. Nourish it. Do everything to ignite and support the craving, because the craving is the engine around which powerful, productive habits can be built.

As Saint-Exupery said, “If you want to build a ship, don’t assign people tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”