Changing Keystone Habit Analytical Essay

Subject: Psychology
Type: Analytical Essay
Pages: 12
Word count: 3652
Topics: Motivation, Addiction, Book, Growth Mindset

Habits play an important role in the lives of individuals, community, and society. Through habit, an individual can automate his or her willpower. Through changing mindset, individuals, as well as organization, could unlock their potential which could sharpen decision-making capabilities, promote creativity and cooperation which leads to high performance. Habit is a strong influencer of individuals and society. Habit as argued by Duhigg (2012), has the power to shape how an individual or society performs. Through changing a habit, an individual or society could harness the flow that opens up opportunities for optimal performance which could ensure that the individual and community achieve higher heights of happiness. Intrinsic motivation according to Pink (2011), could also be a making or a breaking point for any organization depending on how it uses the knowledge. The brain could be “hacked” by an individual to unlock the greater potential that leads to high performance. This paper will provide a summary of the drive, power of habit and stealing the fire books and demonstrate how focusing in improving math practice could be used to increase the performance of the K-12 education system in the United States.

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“The Drive”

Authored by Daniel Pink, “The Drive” is a book about motivation. It illustrates how societies and organization have been for a long time favoring reward-punishment system. The author argues that many organizations and societies have continued to use this system even though it has proved to be incompatible with the demands of the organization and society. According to Pink, the contemporary business and organization life does not understand how it organizes its activities, how it thinks about how organizations think about what it does and how it carries out its activities (2011). The author argues that motivation version 2.0 which have been used for many years does not work well on many occasions even though it has been used to solve some problems in organizations. In this book, Pink argued that it is important to understand about motivation 2.0 so that an organization could discard some of the incompatible sections of the motivation 2.0 while at the same time upgrading to the new system of motivation (2011). 

Another system known as carrots-and-sticks was aimed at seeking more rewards and avoiding punishment. This system postulated that workers were like parts of a machine which should work together at the right time and perform different tasks that jointly contributes to the effective functioning of the whole machine. However, according to Pink, this form of motivation was counterproductive because it leads to opposite outcomes (2011). The book details how depending on rewards for motivation can have hidden costs and thus promote opposite effects from those designed to come from that extrinsic motivation. Also, the book highlights experiments that have proven that incentives could lead to reduced performance. The author argues against the use of rewards in many organization through proving that rewards or incentives do not necessarily lead to higher performance. Good behavior and creativity are not a function of rewards system but they come from intrinsic motivation. 

“The Power of Habit”

“The Power of Habit”, written by Charles Duhigg, provides the argument that habit has a greater role in the lives of individuals, organizations as well as societies. The author uses various examples to illustrate how habit works in shaping individuals and communities. The author argues that habit have three step loop that includes cue, routine, and rewards. Cue according to the author is what triggers the brain so that it goes into an automation mode as well as providing a routine for the brain. The author defines the routine step that includes physical, mental as well as emotional behavior that comes from the cue. The reward is identified in this book as a positive stimulus that passes the message to the brain of the individual or the society that the routine which was used worked well and should be repeated and remembered. The author suggests that when individual and the society learns how to observe cues as well as rewards, they can achieve routine change that works best for them.

In the second chapter, Duhigg pointed out that when a cue is attached to anything one does, it becomes a habit. The author gives an example of how toothpaste initial sale was attached to a cue of cleaning membrane found in the teeth and was seen as the cause of tooth rot and bad smell. The author argues that a habit comes from the craving and anticipation of the brain to the reward that the cue introduced will have even without initiation of routine. The availability of cue helps the brain to anticipate about the reward that will come from a habit (2012). 

The third chapter why transformation occurs during the habit change. The author argues that it is hard to overcome a habit but it could be changed by inserting new routine with the same rewards as well as same cues. Linking the cues that are known to new routines may lead to habit change. The book provides an elaborate example of how the habit change could be effected by the introduction of a new routine into the cue and rewards system by giving an example of alcoholics anonymous. In this example, a new routine can be introduced to the known cue –that of which alcohol provides by bringing in a similar type of rewards that alcohol provides to alcoholics. The author also underscores the power of belief in promoting habit change.

In the fourth chapter, the author highlights the habits of successful organizations. Keystone habit according to the author is the habit that causes haphazard habit disruptions. Through the example of Paul O’Neil who reduced the injury rate in his company. He set in place a system that encouraged his employees to reduce the daily occurrence of injury. Here, the injury was taken as a cue whereas the habit of reporting efforts of reducing the injury on a daily basis which was the routine. When employees complied with this requirement they were promoted. This promotion was the reward that O’Neil assured his employees. Also, in the fifth chapter, Duhigg underscores the importance of willpower. Willpower the author argues is giving individual freedom to choose what they have to do when given the opportunity to understand his own power and ability. This the author argues provides an individual with the willpower which is then turned into a habit that increases the performance level. When willpower is made to be automatic, it becomes a key ingredient to success (2012).

The author also pointed out that all organizations have institutional habits that sharpen the ability to perform and some of these institutional habits may be informal. The book describes how a balance of power, peace, and sense of authority is cultivated in every institution through the existence of informal rules. Also, the author describes how an occurrence of a crisis could be a trigger for initiation of necessary changes that could help the organization achieve high performance. This book also illustrates how habits could be predicted and manipulated. The author gives example how data mining technique is used by some organizations such as Target to predict the shopping habit in order to manipulate it through the provision of tailored rewards. The author argues that shopping habit are unique for every individual, therefore, understanding each shopper’s habit is critical in designing rewards system that takes into consideration each individual’s habit.

The book also acknowledges that habits of societies are responsible for the movement occurrences. Whenever there is loose ties connection between a set of groups that do not necessarily relate to each other, there will be a creation of peer pressure that could be the building stone for the new social habit. The author gives the example of a Montgomery bus boycott that resulted from the arrests of Rosa Parks. Again, this book places responsibility on each individual for their own habits. Through illustrating using the case of pathological gamblers and social gamblers, the author lays open the fact that everyone is responsible for his or her own habit and has the power to change his or her habit wherever possible. It is clear that every individual habit is made from free will and therefore every person is responsible for whatever habit they have as well as having the power to change such habits.

The book has laid down processes of changing habits in a very concise manner. The steps of changing habit include identifying the routine first. This could be done according to Duhigg (2012) through identifying the behavior that needs to be changed. The second step in changing a given habit is through experimenting with the rewards. This could be initiated by completing the routine in the habit loop. According to Duhigg, experimenting with the routine will enable an individual or an organization to identify the cue (2012). The third step in habit change is where the identified cue is separated through identification of the reward that goes hand in hand with the identified cue. The author places habitual cues into five different categories which include the emotional state, time, location, other people or organizations and the immediately preceding action. The last step in changing a habit is having a plan of how the identified cue, routine and reward could be designed differently to achieve the habit change. 

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“Stealing the Fire”

“Stealing the Fire”, is a book authored by Steven Kotler and Jamie Wheal. The book talks about the possibility that could be achieved by humans after unlocking the full potential of their minds. These two authors describe the power that is available in human mind and how it forms an important ingredient to better performance. The flow genome project as described by Kotler & Wheal (2017), involves identification of peak performance that is known as the “zone”. This book describes how individuals could be led to alter their consciousness so that they could improve their lives. 

Through illustrations, the authors described how individuals could unlock their individual utopia to change the humanity. They argue that ecstasis is achieved when an individual’s mental state is in flow and transcendence. The first part of the book explores ecstasis and its elusiveness. Kotler & Wheal describes the four ways through which individual could achieve this state. They have laid down these four ways of finding ecstasis which include technology, neurobiology, psychology and pharmacology (2017). However, they also point to some of the risks associated with each method that could be employed in achieving ecstasis and points out to ways of ensuring that ecstasis is made sustainable. Neurobiology in particular, is highlighted by the authors as an important method of understanding how ecstasis is achieved. Through providing an example of how deeply religious subject’s state of mind is affected by their notion of God which leads to the hyperactivity in their caudate nucleus which forms part of the pleasure system of the brain. This hyperactivity leads them to feel serenity, love as well as joy.

Value can be looked at as the product of time, reward, and risks. Time according to this book is taken to mean the learning curve that an individual or an organization goes through when performing a given function or task. This involves investing and committing to the performance of a particular task until that period that experience is set at maximum for that task and no more improvement could be put into the task anymore. Rewards according to Kotler & Wheal (2017), could be taken as those retained insights that come as a result of performing a given task and are consistent to drive a change considered positive for the individual or an organization. In determining value, it is important that an individual or an organization should consider the risks that are associated with the said value. These include the dangers that could arise when trying to achieve the state of ecstasis.

The book compares the achievement of non-ordinary state to the Mysteries of Eleusinian which describes the communion of men with gods. The authors also describe the “altered State Economy”, which they say have a circulation of about $ 3 trillion to $ 4 trillion and places this amount to communion vocational ecstasis through the giant organization Google. Through naming interesting characters such as those from Navy Seals and mad scientists, the authors illustrate how mass delusions have greatly affected not only mad scientists such as Alexander Shulgin and John Lilly but have also strongly influenced athletes and characters from the Navy Seals. For instance, the authors put a figure of about $ 500,000 as the cost that the State incurs in training one Seal who are then deployed to deal with terrorism. This massive amount, according to Kotler & Wheal, is seven times higher than the median household income something that baffles the writers (2017). The book also provides advice to the readers that there is a need for them to repurpose their egos from their operating systems to the user interface. The self-tech individual is that person who loves technology. The authors claim that love of technology is accompanied by the drive for efficiency, training, and focus. 

The book illustrates why “flow” generation and “getting into the zone” has become the main ingredient that is used by many organizations to achieve success. The book also points out to the reason why meditation has been actively used by many individuals and business in trying to improve the performance. Again, the book explains why the use of psychedelic drugs continues to be famous in unlocking creativity for many top organization officials. All these explanations point to the fact that every individual is trying to shift their state of mind with the aim of unlocking their true potential. The authors argue that when a state of mind is altered, decision-making capabilities are sharpened and this could lead to a rich experience. Also, an altered state of mind according to Kotler & Wheal unleashes creativity and promotes cooperation among different individuals and organization (2017). This is important because it helps the individual or the organization to be inspired as well as to become innovative.

The book explores the revolution that has been experienced in human performance by examining most of the global top performers such as Seal, Google and Fortune 100 chief executive officers whom the authors argue that have applied the altered state to come up with high performance. Through altering their state, these top performers have accelerated their performance which in turn, have led to successful organizations and better individuals. This book has employed numerous case studies as well as scientific research in describing the benefits of believing in positive psychology and flow state which can be helpful for those individuals who may want to live successful lives and exhibit better performance. 

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Focus Area

Education is key to development in any economy. Through attaining a good education, an individual will have tools that are important to performance. The K-12 schools have been facing specific problems over the years and it is the focus of this study to identify these problems and argue that through awakening motivation, change of habit and using altered state, the K-12 performance could be increased. Many stakeholders of the K-12 schools have pointed out that problems of underperformance have been witnessed as a result of various reasons including lack of enough staff as well as lack of enough funding. They believe that if more staff were to be employed, alternative fund sources identification and refocusing on higher scores, the problem of underperformance could be a thing of the past. 

However, the line of thinking of K-12 stakeholders does not seem to be the solution for the underperformance. As a complex education system, K-12 schools have keystone habits that should be identified and addressed positively so that these schools could be transformed to become institutions of better performance.

Taking an example of O’Neill strategy as described by Duhigg (2012), the Chief Executive Officer of Alcoa identified a keystone habit which was an accident and tried to change this habit which leads to the success story of this company. Duhigg argued that individual, organizational or even institutional change could be effected through identification of keystone habits and altering them (2012). The example of O’Neill shows that the CEO identified worker safety as a keystone habit that needed to be altered so that performance could be enhanced.  Through altering worker’s safety, the unproductive habits existing in Alcoa was changed and the new habits of worker’s safety were put in place. Even though this decision was a shocker to many financial analysts of that time, the strategy was no doubt a game changer that saw the company achieve financial success as well as low employee turnover. The analysts thought that the new CEO was going to be concerned with having financial strategies that will improve the company’s financial position. When the CEO focused on worker’s safety the analysts were stunned. 

Even though safety seemed non-controversial, it affected the performance directly. The CEO of Alcoa put the worker’s safety a number one priority. Because no individual, group or authority could question the importance of worker’s safety, O’Neill’s strategy received support from workers, government, labor unions as well as worker’s family. This was helpful in promoting the changing of routine and thus habit. The central argument was that the workers had to find new ways of doing things better. When things were done better quality and financial success automatically followed. The CEO did not involve himself in attempting financial turnaround as his main focus. His intention of finding one transformative habit and focusing on changing it led to change attitudes that promoted the high performance of the entire organization. 

In aiming to improve K-12 schools, we need to focus just like O’Neill focused on one transformative habit of worker’s safety, on one transformative habit that will be supported by all stakeholders in the K-12 school system. For instance, it is important to focus on math achievement in K-12 schools. This is equivalent to worker’s safety because it cannot be opposed by anyone, have greater value and can be applied throughout the system’s lifespan. 

Math as a subject is a key building block in education and students when motivated to invest in keystone habit of greater math achievement could make them naturally desire to perform on other subjects as well and hence improved overall performance. The cue should be identified and the routine is changed in order to change the habit of poor performance. Because math education is administered in stages, there is a need for teaching individual students each new concept so that there is a continuous buildup of various stages. Students will find it difficult to proceed to the next level without achieving the required performance level. It will also affect the students’ performance later in life. When a student is encouraged to be proficient in math subject, he or she will be confident that they can be able to make it in school. Also, when the students become confident that they will achieve higher performance in math, they will be more likely to achieve in other subjects and areas of study as well which will mean that overall performance of K-12 schools will improve. 

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Taking math as a keystone transformative habit requires that teachers encourage the students to learn how to practice math as a subject. Motivation, according to Pink (2011), could also lead to greater performance. The K-12 schools have for some time used a reward-punishment system which has been argued by Pink (2011) as not influencer of high performance. Again, encouraging the students to practice math should be done in a manner that gives them the power to decide on their own to put in effort in practicing mathematics. This will give then willpower that according to Kotler & Wheal (2017), will make them alter their state and hence improve their overall performance. 

One identified way of achieving ecstasis is through technology (Kotler & Wheal, 2017). In applying to this case study, it is important for the K-12 schools to apply the use of computer lab in helping the students in interactive sessions in practicing math. These computer labs should be well equipped with a conducive environment that will not limit the students from practicing math. According to Duhigg (2012), experimenting with rewards is also another method of changing a habit. For instance, the students who answer the questions correctly could be rewarded by being given a virtual sticker. This will also encourage competition that will make the students own math learning, another great step towards improved performance.


This paper looked at three books that focused on how habit change, motivation and altered state of the mind could improve the performance of an individual or society. The three books give proven success stories that have been experienced by various individuals in history. Using these examples and argument the paper focused on the underperformance problem facing K-12 schools in the United States and argued that through focusing on one keystone habit math practicing, students will be motivated, their minds will be in an altered state and their habit will change which will in turn trigger improved performance not only in math as a subject but on other subjects as well. Instead of focusing on increasing funding and staff, focusing on math practice will solve the problem of underperformance that has been experienced in K-12 schools in the United State. Focusing on one keystone habit just like O’Neill’s worker’s safety is the key to solving the underperformance problem in K-12 schools.

Did you like this sample?
  1. Duhigg, C. (2012). The power of habit: Why we do what we do in life and business. New York City, NY: Penguin Random House.
  2. Kotler, S & Wheal, J. (2017). Stealing Fire. New York City, NY: Harper Collins Publishers.
  3. Pink, D. H. (2011). Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. New York City, NY: Penguin Random House.
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