So many brain-centric books have appeared in the past 18 months that well, the mind reels. Among them is "The Scientific American Book of Love, Sex and the Brain" by Judith Horstman of Sacramento.
Now award-winning New York Times investigative reporter Charles Duhigg narrows the focus of recent neuroscientific research with "The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business" (Random House, $28, 371 pages). In it, he tells how cultivating new habits helped the success of the Starbucks and Target chains, and the fortunes of NFL teams, hospital patients and athletes.
There's much more. "There are researchers at dozens of universities scrutinizing habits and corporate scientists at hundreds of retail companies who are focused on understanding the psychology of habits," he said.
Visit the author at www.charlesduhigg.com.
How powerful is habit?
Enormously. A Duke University study showed that (up to) 45 percent of our daily actions are habits and not decisions.
How does habit work?
In the last decade, our understanding of the neurology of habit formation has been completely transformed. Within our brains are three "components" of every habit a cue, which is a trigger for an automatic behavior to start; the routine, which is the behavior itself; and a reward, or how our brain learns to remember the pattern for the future. The cue and the reward are at the core of changing habits and creating new ones.
How do you break a bad habit?
You start by diagnosing the different parts of the habit. The Golden Rule of Habit Change is that you need to keep the same cue and deliver the old reward, but change the routine. You have to figure out what's triggering your habit and what reward it's delivering to you. Then find a new behavior to replace the old one, but which still taps into the same cue and reward.
How do you establish a good habit?
To create a new habit, you need to create the right cue and reward. For instance, studies have shown the most durable way of creating an exercise habit is to choose an obvious cue, like putting on your running shoes before breakfast, or wearing workout clothes when you get home from work.
Then you have to deliver a reward when you exercise. One would be to eat a small piece of chocolate after you work out. You're tricking your brain into believing there is a reward inherent in this behavior. Over time, your brain will learn to enjoy exercise for its own sake and won't want the chocolate anymore.
What is a keystone habit?
A pattern that sets off other patterns in your life. Studies show that people who exercise are less likely to use their credit cards, and they eat a more healthful diet. Food-journaling is another keystone habit. It's almost guaranteed you will lose weight if you write down what you eat every day.
What was your most surprising finding?
How malleable habits are. Any existing habit can be changed, and new habits can be created. It doesn't matter how old you are or how ingrained the behavior is. You can change that habit if you understand how to take it apart and put it back together the way you want it to be.
What habit have you altered?
I no longer eat chocolate chip cookies, and I've created an exercise habit. I'm actually training for the New York City Marathon.
Last word on habit?
If you have the right habits, your odds of success in life go up considerably.
National Library Week
The American Library Association-sponsored National Library Week begins today and runs through Saturday. Since 1958, it's helped raise the national consciousness about libraries.
As part of it, the Sacramento Public Library and its 28 locations will host special activities this week. For details: www.saclibrary.org, (916) 265-2920.
To get you started, consider:
Tuesday is National Library Workers Day, Wednesday is National Bookmobile Day, Thursday is Support Teen Literature Day.
For details, go to www.ala.org/nlw.
Getting books to kids
The website www.readkiddoread.com is a cool place for parents to find book choices (500 of them) for their children. It's run by mega-prolific thriller novelist and literary proponent James Patterson (the "Women's Murder Club" series, the Alex Cross mysteries) and his board of consultants children's book reviewers and authors, and academic experts on reading and writing.
Its second annual Kiddo Awards have been given for best children's books of 2011. Hundreds of nominees were whittled down to 40 titles, then five winners and five runners-up were chosen by the public. Go to the site for a look-see.
"It's not the school's job to find books for our kids, it's our job" Patterson said by phone last week. "When our son, Jack, was 8, we told him, 'You're going to read every day, but we're going to find some cool books.' He's been a big reader ever since. Not being literate closes so many doors."
P.S.: Patterson and publisher Little, Brown recently donated 200,000 hardcover books to U.S. military troops overseas.
"Shipping 20,000 boxes of books was a massive undertaking," he said. "At one point, we ran out of trucks."
Blues, big dogs and Tahoe
Three quick shots:
"When I Left Home" by Buddy Guy (Da Capo, $26, 320 pages; on sale May 8): Guy is one of the world's top blues guitarists, an artist who helped shape an American sound that's more popular than ever. Here, he recalls his life transformation.
P.S.: Catch Guy jamming with the Rolling Stones in "Shine a Light," the 2008 documentary directed by Martin Scorsese.
"Giant George: Life With the World's Biggest Dog" by Dave Nasser (Grand Central, $24.99, 272 pages): The puppy grew and grew, finally reaching 5 feet tall, 7 feet long and 245 pounds. George holds the Guinness World Record for tallest dog ever. What's it like to live with him?
"Lake Tahoe's West Shore" by Carol A. Jensen (Arcadia, $21.99, 128 pages): Locals call the West Shore "the best shore," and with good reason. The "Images of America" series continues with this fascinating history, told through vintage photographs and text blocks.