The Power of Habit, Featuring Charles Duhigg—GLSnext Event Series Session Notes

Published May 20, 2021

On May 20, our audience gathered at the GLSnext Event Series featuring Charles Duhigg and his practical talk on The Power of Habit. Dive deeper and reflect on what you learned with these helpful session notes!


Study of the neurological activity of rats:

  • Rats running through a maze to find chocolate for the first time takes about 20 minutes
  • The brain activity from the sensors reflects the rat trying to make sense of the world
  • After repeating the exercise, rats get better at finding the chocolate—it starts to create a habit
  • Neurological activity drops off after repeated runs through the maze
  • As the rat gets faster and faster, it starts thinking less and less


Takeaways from the rat study:

  • When we’re in the grip of a habit, it feels like we’re not thinking because we actually aren’t. Our brain is designed to try to conserve as much energy as possible.
  • When something becomes automatic in our life, and it becomes something we do unthinkingly, our brain tries to think less.


In the grip of habit, our brain thinks less, with some exceptions…
  • Within neurology and psychology, there is something called the habit loop, which means every single habit has three parts: Cue, Routine and Reward.
  • 40-45% of what you do every day is a habit—it’s something that happens almost without your thinking about it.


How do you design habits? Which habits help us succeed?

There are three habits that are critically important to success.

1. The habit of creating culture
  • Situational awareness is about building mental models and telling ourselves stories about what we expect to happen.
  • Visualizing your day helps you focus on what is important and ignore the distractions.
  • Instead of reacting to alarms, make decisions.
  • You can be overwhelmed at any given moment, so how do you learn to focus? How do you let your habits come out? You do that by changing the story in your head. And the way that you change that story in your head is by being in a culture that challenges you to change on a dime when you need to.
  • How do groups develop better habits and focus? By rewarding what’s hardest.
  • When we reward that hard instinct of changing the story, that’s when we take control even in the most chaotic situations.


2. The habit of creating innovation
  • Scientific papers that contain too much information and too much innovation get ignored.
  • Papers that have a bunch of cliches and have 5% or less of new information are easier for people to pick up, understand and repeat.
  • Innovation is exposing ourselves to information. It’s being curious and then having a routine to think.
  • To be more innovative, have a habit in your life that forces you to think. It might be a walk in the afternoon.


3. The habit of creating teams
  • There are five basic things that a team needs to do for a team to succeed, and number one is psychological safety.
  • Building willpower creates psychological safety
    • If you could give your kid one thing, giving them willpower is better than giving them money or smarts. Willpower is the single greatest correlator to success.
    • Teaching people the habit of willpower improves both customer satisfaction and employee satisfaction. It helps people feel like they have a sense of control.
    • When you’re creating habits, the most powerful rewards contain emotions. And emotional rewards create psychological safety.


Concluding thoughts:

  • The way we feel better about uncertainty, is to help ourselves and others to feel in control.
  • The best way to feel in control is to look at our habits, and take control of them, and change the story in our head.
  • There’s a way to feel more in control. It’s by paying attention to and diagnosing the habits in our lives and deciding what we want them to be rather than what life is forcing on us.


If you enjoyed Charles Duhigg’s session, there’s a lot more where that came from! Join us again on August 5-6 for the premier leadership event of the year—The Global Leadership Summit. Learn from 15+ world-class faculty for an experience that might very well change your life.
Get your tickets today at


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