Are habits a matter of routine?
You'd think so, wouldn't you? Yet, there's a bigger factor in play that goes beyond a cue and routine. It's called the Reward. There's just one problem: how do you put a reward? And how do you know it's the right reward? What should you do if you want to motivate a client, instead?
All these answers wait for you in this episode, plus a hidden factor that goes beyond cue, routine and reward.
The unedited transcript
You've probably heard of Batman.
Now how does Batman get summoned by the police commissioner, who happens to be Police Commissioner Gordon? Apparently, Batman was being summoned by a pager. Every time there was a crime in Gotham City that pager would go off in Batman's pouch and he would have to respond to a crime.
Now you compare this with the bat signal.
The bat signal is a distress signal that appears in various interpretations of the Batman myth. According to Wikipedia, it is a specially modified Kleig searchlight with a stylised symbol of a bat attached to the light so that it projects a large bat on the sky or the buildings of Gotham City.
No one knows for sure how that pager got thrown away and this elaborate bat signal came into play, but one thing we know for sure: that pager was no match for the elaborate bat signal that came up after one of Batman's encounters with The Joker.
Batman said that he was no longer happy to get this pager and skulk around in the shadows. He wanted this elaborate bat signal that would be projected on the building, that would be projected in the sky. That was his trigger.
Most of us don't have such an elaborate trigger every time we want to achieve something
Let's say we want to go for a walk every day or maybe we want to wake up every morning and do yoga. Maybe we want to learn how to draw or write or do something and learn a scale or a language. We seem to fall by the wayside simply because we don't have the trigger.
Is it just the trigger? In episode number 14, I covered this concept of the trigger, but since then I've realised that it's a lot more. In the Power of the Habit by Charles Duhigg he specifically talks about three elements that need to be in place. In this episode, we're going to cover those three elements, and then we're going to add the fourth missing element that makes the big difference.
To create a good habit or a bad habit you have to have three core elements in place. They are a cue, a routine, and a reward. What makes that cue, routine, and reward more powerful, especially when you're trying to get a good habit rather than a bad habit?
That's the power of the group. In this episode, we're going to look at what is a cue, what is a routine, what is a reward, and how the group helps tremendously. Let's start off with the first element, which is a cue.
Part 1: The Cue
Let's go back to 1900
In 1900 one of the biggest problems that America had was that most people didn't brush their teeth. Not a few people but most people. Now imagine you are someone who manufactures toothpaste and you want to get an entire country, probably the entire world, to use toothpaste. What do you do?
If you're lucky you have someone like Claude Hopkins around. Who was Claude Hopkins? Claude Hopkins was one of the first advertising geniuses of our time. He wrote the book Scientific Advertising. If you haven't read that book, you should read it.
As the story goes, Mr. Hopkins was approached by an old friend with an amazing new creation. It was a minty, frothy toothpaste named Pepsodent. He somehow had to convince everyone that they needed Pepsodent. He has to create this habit from nothing at all. He has to create a cue. He had to create a trigger.
What was that cue or trigger? In the book, The Power of Habit Charles Duhigg goes on to talk about how this trigger came about. It seems that Claude Hopkins signed on to run the ads on Pepsodent but he had to go through a pile of dental textbooks. In his autobiography, he wrote about how it was terrible, dry reading.
In the middle of one of the books, he found a reference to something. That something was mucin plaques on teeth, which Claude Hopkins then called the film. When you wake up every morning you have this kind of film on your teeth. Most of us don't notice it. Well, we didn't notice it back in 1900. Now this film is a naturally occurring phenomenon and you don't really have to worry too much about it, but Claude used it as the trigger, like the bat signal.
He started running ads all over the place. He said just run your tongue across your teeth and you will feel a film. That's what makes your teeth look off-colour. That's what invites decay. Then he pushed that button further. He said millions are using this new method of teeth cleaning. Why would any woman have dingy film on her teeth?
Pepsodent removes the film. In that one action with that poster and that ad campaign, Claude Hopkins changed the habit by sending out that signal that when you wake up every day you're going to have that film on your teeth. You're going to run your tongue over it and you're going to feel that. That became the trigger.
This is the starting point for any habit
We do this. We have an alarm clock that tells us we have to wake up and go into our yoga, or in my case, I have Tuesdays, which is when I record my podcast. I know that by Tuesday morning I've got to get this podcast out 6 am in the morning.
It's not enough to have the cue because we all sleep through the alarm. We all let Tuesdays slip into Wednesdays. Before you know it it's Friday and then you're all stressed out. To solve that problem you have to have the second element, which is the routine. Let's look at routine.
Part 2: The Routine
When I started out as a cartoonist many years ago I used to do two sets of comic strips
These are daily comic strips. You do them every day five days a week. Now I had to do two sets, which means I had to turn out ten comic strips a week. The thing is that I was young.
I was in my 20s so I didn't have time to think about my actions. I just said yes when the newspaper editor said, “Would you like to put your comic strips in five days a week?” Then when you sit down and think about it, do you really want to do a comic strip every single day? Wouldn't it be better to just do it once every week or once every 15 days?
Instead, what I found surprised me a great deal.
I found that it was easier to do one or even two comic strips in this case and to do it every single day rather than to do one every 15 days. You know this to be true because it's much easier to go for a walk on a regular basis or do something on a regular basis than to do it once every 15 days.
Then when we went front cartooning into marketing,
I started up this website called 5000bc.com. Now it's the membership site of Psychotactics. It started out in 2003 and it's still going. We still have our members and we still have a great time, but that's not the point.
The point was when I started out 5000bc I had no ability to write articles at high speed
I was taking two days to write a single article. Then I started 5000bc and I promised the readers that I would put in five articles a week. Now how did I come to this five articles a week? I don't know. I looked at some other membership sites and they were doing five articles a week so I decided to have five articles a week. So the habit started.
The routine was that somehow I had to have that cue, which is Monday morning or Tuesday morning, and then there was the routine where I had to go one, two, three, four, five. It was the end of the week, and then the next week. What you find with routine is that it's much easier to do things on a regular basis than it is to do it every now and then. We took these concepts and we started applying them to our courses.
In 2006 to 2008 we ran a completely different article writing course than we do today. At that point in time, someone would write an article once a week. Then I would look at it and then comment on it. Then they would go away and then they would write another article once a week.
When you think about it, that's pretty good. To write an article once a week, that's pretty phenomenal. Around the year 2008, my instructions were misunderstood. I started up the article writing course as always and one of the participants … yes, Paul, you know who you are … Paul decided to write an article every day thinking that's what I meant.
The rest of the group, they thought they had to write an article every day. I was sitting there looking at them writing an article every day and thinking should I tell them. I went to my wife Renuka. Should I tell them? I let them keep on writing.
Now, this should have been amazing for me because to write an article every single day, how difficult is that? It wasn't amazing. I'd learned this with the cartoons. I'd learned this with 5000bc. I'd learned this before. I knew that the routine helps you move along at a far greater speed. We see this with our daily brushing as well, which what Pepsodent started all those years ago. We brush our teeth once a day, many of us brush it twice a day, so the routine sits in.
What we've covered so far are two things. First is the cue and the second is the routine. This takes us to the third part, which is the reward.
Part 3: The Reward
If you started out that yoga routine every morning and then you suddenly find yourself not continuing, there is a reason for it.
It's not because of the cue or the routine. It's because of the reward. What you have to do to get a habit in place is you have to have the reward in place. All bad habits are created by rewards. You start eating a muffin today at lunchtime and then tomorrow at lunch time and the day after at lunchtime. Suddenly you know the reward before the cue or the routine. Afternoon doesn't have to show up. In the morning you're thinking about that muffin.
For good habits, you need so much more energy
You have to have the reward in place. When we go for a walk every day, and I've said this before, the reward is coffee, but not just any coffee. Because if the coffee wasn't so good and in between, we started running to these cafes that were not so good, your reward falls apart and then everything else falls apart with it. We had to look for this café that was open at 6:45 in the morning. Not 7:00 but 6:45, because that's when we reach our destination, have our coffee, and then turn around.
We found this café where the barista was one of the top three in the All Japan Championships.
As you can tell, the coffee is consistently good cup after cup after cup. That becomes the reward. That becomes the reason why we wake up when it's raining, when it's windy, when you have good weather or bad weather. We're on the road and we get that reward. This is what you have to set in place whether you're writing a book or learning a language or doing just about anything. Pepsodent had an inbuilt reward that no one really talked about.
When you have a great product, then you have great competition.
Other toothpaste companies tried to sell their toothpaste just like Pepsodent had and they didn't meet with a lot of success. This left all of those toothpaste companies totally confused. As far as they were concerned, there was a cue, that was the film, and then there was the routine, and that was waking up in the morning. The reward was clean teeth, wasn't it?
But it wasn't, because Pepsodent had citric acid. It also had mint oil and it had some other exotic chemicals.
When people brushed their teeth they got this tingling sensation. That tingling sensation was their reward. It took the other competing companies a long time to figure out what this secret ingredient, this reward was really all about. If customers didn't feel that tingling sensation in their mouths, they would feel like they hadn't brushed their teeth at all, so there was no reward and the whole exercise fell flat on its face.
This is the reason why Pepsodent's sales continued to soar and the habit continued to set vs. the other one where it wasn't so good. That's the same thing with the coffee. The fact that we know that there is a cue and the routine doesn't make any difference if at the end of the trip the coffee is not stunningly good. I have the same kind of reward with the podcast.
When I finish recording the podcast I have to then put in the music. The music is my reward, because I enjoy the music. I enjoy putting in all those little bits of music and increasing the volume just a little bit and reducing it. That's my reward. All those cues and all those routines make no difference if there is no music.
If you told me to record this podcast without the music, yes I would do it but I would not have fun.
If I don't have fun, there goes the habit. This is why bad habits are so good, because they have fun, they have reward. Every time there's that muffin at the end, you don't need much of a cue or a routine. You can quite easily get to the muffin.
When you have a bad habit, it's very easy because there's always that reward in place. This is the fundamental flaw with habits: that the reward needs to be in place right at the start.
We have to do this in the article writing course or all our courses
On Friday you get a gold star. You have to do your assignment on Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday and Thursday, and on Friday you get a gold star. Now it's just a little icon.
It's just a little icon in the forum and you would think people would not be interested with that icon, but they are. That's the reward. People crave that icon. How do we know that? We know that because you take it away and you see their reaction, and people say, “Hey, where's my gold star for this week?” The reward can be tested.
If you put a reward in place and you take away that reward, that is your benchmark.
That's how you know that the reward is really good. If you take it away and no one cares, you have to change your reward system. This is whether you are setting a benchmark for yourself or for your clients.
You have to start off with the reward, then work out the cue, then the routine. Then we have a habit in place. What we've covered so far is the cue, the routine, and the reward, which can be benchmarked. But we found out that there is something else that matters. That is the group.
Without a group, it's far easier to fall off the bandwagon.
To give you an example of the group, let me talk about having a bad group. Now how do we define a group? A group is just more than one person. Two people, that's a group. Four people, that's also a group. Eight people, that's also a group. 25 people: is that still a group? Apparently not. This is what we found when we started doing the courses.
Now when you look online at many marketers they talk about how a thousand people turned up and 500 people turned up and 200 people turned up. Does that lead to change? Does that lead to a change in the habit? It doesn't.
The reason why 95 or 98% of those people don't reach their goal, whatever it is, to write a book or sing a song or do whatever it is, the reason why they don't is because the group is too large. What we did was we had to break it down so that we had, say, only 25 people.
Then the introverts stood up and they said, “No no no, 25 people is like having 500 people.” We asked them, “How many people do you need?” and they said, “How about six?” We found that six or seven people constitute the right group in terms of the maximum number of people. Two people, that's just you and someone else, that's the smallest group possible. You have to have the group if you want to set a habit in place, especially because we're so hopeless at creating and sustaining these habits all on our own.
The reason the group is so important is because one, you get to know other people, so it becomes a social environment but with just five or six other people, not with 500 people where you can get lost and no one can notice if you've dropped off.
Even in the group of 25, it's very easy to drop off and no one would notice. The may need to you have a tiny group, everyone notices. You know that everyone is noticing and so you show up. Once you show up, you become a responsible memorable of that group and you start pushing the group forward, the group starts pushing you forward. Now you have a habit.
Now there are other elements of the group that make it so powerful but at the very core, that element of someone else needing your support, that is what makes the group so powerful. Again, like the coffee, if the group doesn't know each other or if they are anonymous, it doesn't work because you have no connection to the group.
The may need to you have a connection to the group you have a responsibility to the group. As soon as you have that responsibility, then you know that the other person is waiting for you to go for the walk.
It sounds crazy. When you're looking at a course there are people from South Africa, there are people from the United States, from New Zealand. Why would they be interested in someone else? But they are, and that's the power of the group. That's what creates that habit. That's what sustains the cue, the routine, and the reward.
If you really want to create a habit, you have to start off with the reward, then take away the reward.
Does it make any difference to you? That's when you know that it's a great reward or not. Then you find a group. Once you have the reward and the group, then you go into setting up the cue and setting up the routine. Then you have cue, routine, reward, and group. That is how you get a habit in place.
It's 5:46 AM and at exactly three or four minutes from now I'm going to get my cue. It's going to come through Facebook Messenger. Yes, my wife Renuka, she'll Facebook me and say, “I'm up. Are you ready?” I have to respond, “I'm ready.” The group forms at that point in time. Then it's time to hit the road and get our cup of coffee.
When you're working all by yourself it's very difficult to form a habit, so here's what I would suggest. At a primary level, join 5000bc.com. That's our membership site. It's very reasonable. Once you join, there are groups there and they will help you move forward. We purposely keep the groups very small. For instance, we've taken the info products course and we've set up groups. They're working through the info products course.