I committed to reading two books every month in 2013, one fiction and one nonfiction. I cheated a this month (again) and read two nonfiction books, but both were really useful. Here is what I found:

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg. This book is a fascinating study of the power of habit in  our personal lives, in business and in society at large. Duhigg vividly describes how habits are created and the “loop” of Cue, Routine and Reward. In a study at MIT researchers mapped the brain activity of lab mice as they learned to get through a maze to get a food reward. Early on, the mice’s brain activity was high through the entire process. Once they created a habit, though, the brain activity dropped off as Routine kicked in. My 16 year old, Miss Ceara, is learning to drive. I can practically see her brain whirring away as she acquires this new skill, which will later be relegated to habit.

Stopping habits can be hard, Mr. Duhigg points out, but we can change them. The key is determining the Cue (the habit trigger) and the Reward (what we are seeking). When the Cue is isolated we can find another way to get the reward. Simple, but not easy.★★★★

The Early to Rise Experience: Learn to Rise Early in 30 Days by Andy Traub. Mr. Traub argues that if you have a family and a job, the early morning hours are the time to create the new you. The fact is we all have goals, perhaps even big, hairy audacious goals like writing a book, knitting a sweater, training for a triathlon or learning how to play a musical instrument. If you are normal, once you get into your day (or more often your day gets into you) these goals take a back seat. So you have to make the time. And what better time when you are refreshed, quiet and (usually) undisturbed? ★★★★

So how can we make use of the fine ideas contained in these books? I had this thought:

Make an exhaustive list of good habits you want to acquire. Pick one, do it for a month or longer until it is automatic. Then move on to the next habit.

Right I am working on rising at 5 a.m. Waking early seems to be a gateway (a Keystone Habit according to Mr. Duhigg) to other good habits: if my goal is to write 500 words per day, get fit and read two books per month (already doing that one!) I am going to have to find that time somewhere.

And Coffee helps.