The Power of Habit

My review of The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg.

… once you understand that habits can change, you have the freedom—and the responsibility—to remake them. Once you understand that habits can be rebuilt, the power of habit becomes easier to grasp, and the only option left is to get to work.

This book breaks down habits into small, understandable pieces—at its simplest a 3-step loop of cue + routine + reward. The narrative style is easy to grasp, in the vein of Malcolm Gladwell and Freakonomics.

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Wonderfully illustrated with examples of both good and bad habits, from alcoholism and gambling to workplace safety and employee willpower. Duhigg describes willpower, self-discipline, the power of belief as “keystone habits” that can create a structure for widespread change.

The stories and examples explain the central idea of the book: habits can be changed if we understand how they work. In the 3-step loop for a negative habit like overeating, for example, the cue and reward remain the same but the routine changes to a healthier one. And, importantly, small changes—no matter how tiny they may seem—fuel bigger ones.

Habits are powerful, but delicate. They shape our lives far more than we realize—they are so strong, in fact, that they cause our brains to cling to them at the exclusion of all else, including common sense.

My biggest takeaway is a motivation to think critically about my own personal habits, as well as the keystone habits and cultural values of my workplace. Raising my awareness is the first step to understanding my habits, and identify which ones I should change.

(Props Matt for the recommendation.)

The Investigative Mindset

Knowing where to look for answers is more important than memorizing a set of requirements or rules.

I have a confession: I often have no idea what I’m doing.

I remember clearly what it felt like my first day at my job: I was new, overwhelmed, and maybe even scared. But the work was exciting, mind-filling, and fun. Now, several years into the role, I still feel this push-and-pull. I’ve learned to juggle these opposing feelings and be both productive and successful at my job.

The key to this—and I believe one of the most important traits for my success—is an investigative mindset. Knowing where to look for answers is more important than memorizing a set of requirements or rules.

Why? Rules and requirements change, and the context I work in is constantly changing. I’m more productive in my work by making good, informed decisions—not by the book. I can work smarter, gaining a new awareness of how everything works.

How? To develop this mindset, I exercise the following:

1. Take initiative on my own first: do the legwork to find the answer. Be tenacious and know where to look.
2. Ask questions, know when to stop looking and ask for help. Not being afraid to be ignorant or wrong.
3. Share my ideas for the better solution.
4. Look to my teammates as a critical force—we learn together.

Often, the investigation takes me out of bounds—out of my “area”—that’s OK, and natural. I talk to other people outside my team, and I learn a bit more about how it all works together. I fill in the gaps in my knowledge. I’ve raised my awareness.

It wasn’t always this clear for me … after only 3 or 4 months into being at Automattic I had a revelation that changed my mindset—put it into words. One day, I ran into a quote one of our internal P2 sites, expressed as a formula or pseudocode.

( intuition + investigation ) > memorization

I said “Yes, Yes, YES!” I was in the privacy of my home office, so no one heard me, of course. It really made sense, though. And it alleviated part of the struggle I was having to completely internalize all the things I was supposed to know and do. All the stats and bots and checklists and dos and donts.

This was later echoed by something UX guru Jared Spool said at An Event Apart:

The mindset of investigation is about informed decisions, not going “by the book.” Dogmatic, rule-based methodologies exist only to enforce things; they avoid critical thinking and good decision making.

I realized if I made good, informed decisions I could solve problems in both normal and edge cases. Instead of a one-time answer, I could build a framework to answer any question. A mentality. The outcome of finding the answer, solving the problem, sharing the solution—rewards this mindset. A loop. Doing it over and over.

This feedback loop is hugely powerful. It gives me confidence to continue to strive for an investigative mind.


Notes

1. A video my colleague Justin Shreve posted echoes this investigative mindset, specifically as it applies to software development: Being a developer is being a problem solver.

2. Thinking about investigation reminded me of my time in the Future Problem Solving (FPS) club in high school. We found creative solutions to mock issues like world hunger or renewable energy. It was fun and challenging, but the best part was the process itself. Investigate, organize, present, debate. Learn. (Random trivia: according to Wikipedia a later team from my school won a state FPS competition. Rock!)

3. One more quote: “Never memorize what you can look up in books.” —Einstein (unsourced)

Travel Tip: Headband

Aside

Something to consider on a long—and possibly international—plane flight.

Instead of a dedicated eye shade that you’ll use rarely other than for a few hours on the plane, use a wool hat or headband to cover your eyes and ears, planes tend to be cold anyway.

And if you have earplugs or earphones in, the headband will help them not fall out while you’re snoozing.

WordPress 3.6 “Oscar” and Twenty Thirteen Theme

A bit late posting this but it’s still very much on my mind.

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With WordPress 3.6 I was honored once again to be part of the team for the newest default WordPress theme. For Twenty Thirteen Joen Asmussen pulled out all the stops, working from Matt’s vision for something new and bold and colorful. I’m still tingly from the first time I saw the design.

Check out the demo and read on for all the juicy details:

- Background and introduction post by 3.6 lead Mark Jaquith.
– Joen’s recap: Four Little Numbers.
– Lead developer Konstantin Obenland presents: Twenty Thirteen – Ins and Outs of Developing a Default Theme (slides).
– Joen’s alternate color versions and original PSD: Twenty Thirteen: Make It Yours.

If you missed the 3.6 announcement or want to know what’s next for WordPress I highly recommend watching 3.6 and State of the Word.

8 Years on WordPress.com

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8-years

Totally geeky and egocentric stat but I’m very proud to be a WordPress.com blogger. I haven’t had this particular blog on WordPress.com for all 8 years—it’s been just a few, but I was within the first 700 users to sign up in the beginning.

Since then this blogging service has grown up just a bit: see a live look at activity across WordPress.com.

Gangplank Tucson Reopens Downtown

You’re invited to Gangplank Tucson’s grand reopening May 22nd, 2013. The new space is smack-dab in the middle of downtown Tucson, across from the Main Library, at 100 N Stone Ave, Suite 110. (Previously in southern Tucson, near the airport, in the Bookman’s warehouse building.)

I’m excited! The local incarnation of the flagship Gangplank in Chandler, Arizona has even more potential now—in this central location—to be the hub for all things open web in Tucson.

What is Gangplank?

Gangplank is a non-profit, collaborative workspace without physical or financial barriers providing resources and education for local entrepreneurs and businesses. Focused on economic and community development, we seek to unite the creative class, bringing together diverse minds to create something greater than the individual and drive entrepreneurship and civic engagement.