Category Archives: Principles

Habitual Decision Making in Organizations

Organizations’ current decisions are driven by their past behavior rather than pure reason. Decisions are ultimately come to by individuals acting with the context of a social organization. The behavior of organizational members is driven by their past experience interacting with other members; members’ knowledge of the social consequences of their choices create incentivizes individual choices that are frequently are at odds with the most rational organizational choice. Consequently, an organization’s internal social history can tell us much more about what to expect in their future decisions than purely rational observations.
“Nelson and Winter [authors of An Evolutionary Theory of Behavior] had spent more than a decade examining how companies work, trudging through swamps of data before arriving at their central conclusion: ‘Much of firm behavior,’ they wrote, is best ‘understood as a reflection of the general habits and strategic orientation coming from the firm’s past,’ rather than ‘the result of a detailed survey of remote twigs of a decision tree.’
     Or to put in language that people use outside of theoretical economics, it may seem like most organizations make rational choices based on deliberate decision making, but that’s not really how companies operate at all. Instead firms are guided by long-held organizational habits,, patterns that emerge from thousands of employees’ independent decisions. And these habits have more profound impacts than anyone previously understood.”
“ [Paul O’Neill] quickly figured out that the government’s efforts, which should have been guided by logical rules and deliberate priorities, were instead driven by bizarre institutional processes that in many ways, operated like habits. Bureaucrats and politicians, rather than making decisions, were responding to cues and automatic routines in order to get rewards such as promotions or re-elections. It was a habit loop— spread across thousands of people and billions of dollars”
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

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