Small Wins


An positive outcome that increases the likelihood of another positive outcome. They do not typically happen in a predictable or linear fashion but they are essential for progress nonetheless. A small win can be a promoter of momentum and / or a building block of a larger achievement.


” ‘Small wins do not combine in a neat linear, serial form, with each step being a demonstrable step closer to a determined ‘goal’, ‘ wrote Karl Weick, a prominent organizational psychologist. ‘More common is the circumstance where small wins are scattered…like miniature experiments that test implicit theories about resistance and opportunity and uncover both resources and barriers that were invisible before the situation was stirred up’ ” (113)


The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

Planning for Pain Inflection Points


Whenever a person is improving a capability, he or she nearly always encounters painful inflection points as he or she grows. Individuals who plan out in advance how they’ll deal with painful inflection points have a greater chance at improving than those who do not plan out who they’ll cope with pain.


  1. Write down when and where you expect to encounter emotional hardship
  2. Come up with strategies for coping with painful moments
  3. Visualize / mentally rehearse the moment of hardship and practice implementing your coping strategy


“The Scottish study’s participants were the types of people most likely to fail at rehabilitation. The scientist conducting the experiment wanted to see if it was possible to help them harness their willpower. She gave each patient a booklet after their surgeries that detailed their rehab schedule, and in the back were thirteen additional pages — one for each week — with blank spaces and instructions: ‘My goals for this week are______? Write down exactly what you are going to do. For example, if you are going to go for a walk this week, write down where and when you are going to walk. She asked patients to fill in those pages with specific plans. Then she compared the recoveries of those who wrote out goals with those patients who had received the same booklets, but didn’t write anything.


As the psychologist scrutinized the booklets, she saw that many of the plans had something in common: they focused on how patients would handle a specific moment of anticipated pain. The man who exercised on the way to the bathroom, for instance, knew that each time he stood up from the couch, the ache was excruciating. So he wrote out a weekly plan for dealing with it: Automatically take the first step, right away, so he wouldn’t be tempted to sit down again.

Put another way, the patients’ plans were built around inflection points when they knew their pain — and thus the temptation to quit — would be strongest. The patients were telling themselves how they were going to make it over the hump”

Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit

Willpower as a Muscle


Willpower is a muscle, not a skill. A skill is the product of an action. A muscle possesses the capacity to produce of an action. Willpower is akin to a muscle in that when it is used, its energy reserves are depleted until it has had a chance to recover.

And like a muscle, willpower can be trained so that its total energy reserves are increased. Its capacity can expand through deliberate action.


“Sometimes it looks like people with great self-control aren’t working hard — but that’s because they’ve made it automatic. Their willpower occurs to them without them having to think about it.” -Angela Duckworth



A learned behavior that has become automatic. A habit forms when a subject begins to associate a particular behavior with an outcome that the subject desires. Because the outcome is rewarding, the subject will begin to repeat the behavior until it becomes automatic.

Associated Terms

Habits are learned as the result of a habit loop.

The process of a subject deliberately repeating behavior in order to encourage the brain to accept it as a habit is called chunking.

Evolutionary Explanation of Existence

Habits exist due to the evolutionary advantage they enabled. Complex thinking, which takes place outer layers of the brain, requires a greater amount of energy and attention than habitual routine. Therefore, when a subject has repeatedly engaged in behavior that has proven to be rewarding, the brain essentially ‘automates’ the behavior in order to cut energy and attention consumption while ensuring that the desirable outcome continues to occur.


The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg



Golden Rule of Habit Change


A method of habit change. Rather than trying to eliminate the cue and/or the reward of a habit, the undesirable routine in a habit is replaced with an emotionally positive or neutral routine. To successfully execute the Golden Rule of Habit Change, the substituted routine must be capable of producing the reward of the previous routine. In this sense, the habit is being modified rather than extinguished.


Even if it’s not explicit, Alcoholics Anonymous employs the Golden Rule by forcing their members to do three things:

1) List all your cues
-What makes you drink? Where? What? When?

2) Search for and list rewards
-Aside from the chemically induced high, how does drinking benefit the abuser? Socially? Emotionally? Physically?

3) Find a routine that gets you a similar reward without the downsides
-Exercise? Meetup groups? Religion?

4) Replace the drinking routine with a new routine

The goal is to re-shape the behavior associated with drinking rather than attack drinking head on


Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

Keystone Habit

Quick Summary

A habit that sets off a chain reaction leading to the formation of multiple other good habits. It can be considered a foundational habit, one whose successful adoption leads to the successful adoption of many other positive habits. It is the initiator of a pattern of self-determined growth.


In Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg described Alcoa CEO Paul O’Neill’s belief about keystone Habits: “O’Neill believed that some habits have the power to start a chain reaction, changing other habits as they move through an organization. Some habits, in other words, matter more than others in remaking businesses and lives. These are ‘keystone habits’ and they can influence how people work, eat, play, live, spend, and communicate”

Duhigg continues:”Keystone habits start a process that, over time, transforms everything. Keystone habits say that success doesn’t depend on getting every single thing right, but instead relies on identifying a few priorities and fashioning them through powerful levers…The habit habits that matter most are the ones, when they start to shift, dislodge and remake other patterns” (100)