Are runways inspired by Twitter a new trend?
That's the best add for bacon we've seen yet.
It’s nearly impossible that you’ve missed these commercials for Target’s new Everyday Collection since they’re essentially on every channel every 15 minutes, but if you have, let’s bring you up to date. The commercials consist of models in sharp, ready-to-wear white outfits showcasing items like cake mix, eggs, diapers and other everyday purchase items.
The seemingly simple commercials have gained a tremendous amount of buzz due to their — for lack of a better word — randomness.
To capitalize on the campaign's success, on Jan. 23 Target unveiled its tweet-to-runway fashion show, which showcased the collection of everything from toilet paper to pizza rolls to potato chips with a side of whimsy. Each item that was displayed was inspired by an "everyday" tweet by those in the Twittersphere.
For instance, a jar of pickles was spotlighted thanks to a tweet by @MarciaElise that read, "Whoever invented dill pickles is a genius." That’s just one of dozens of tweets that were read during the more-than-an-hourlong show.
The best part of it all? The models read these tweets with a straight face — and believe us, they were hilarious. Just another example of a brilliant fusion of fun, fashion, and food.
If you want to check out some of the other "everyday tweets" search #everydayshow on Twitter.
Take a peek at the show below.
Inside Target’s Marketing Strategy
At Target Corporation, where 2019 comparable sales growth at 1,800+ stores was 3.4% and digital sales growth was 29%, the competition never seems far away.
Buffeted by Amazon and Walmart, Target has created and stuck to a distinctive and profitably positioned lane. Sprucing up stores, expanding house brands and digital capabilities has proven to be a sound strategic trifecta.
I recently asked Rick Gomez, Target’s EVP, chief marketing, digital and strategy officer, for his perspective on the organization’s marketing strategy.
Paul Talbot: How do you evaluate the usefulness and the effectiveness of your marketing strategy?
Rick Gomez: Marketing is responsible for driving business results, so we measure everything we do and can adjust accordingly in real time.
But we have to balance the math and the magic. Because when Target’s at its best, we’re sparking something deeper in our guests. That means we have to compel people to make us part of their everyday shopping – like grabbing something for dinner on Tuesday. But we also have to inspire a sense of joy and discovery in a way only Target can so we can drive those special “I got it at Target!” trips.
A great example of this balance is our Target Run campaign and the work we did last year to celebrate the 20th anniversary of our first design partnership.
Target Run is easily the most effective campaign we’ve ever done – by almost every metric. It has produced phenomenal return on investment since we launched it a few years ago. Today it’s playing a big role in driving awareness of our same-day fulfillment options – drive-up, in-store pick-up and same-day delivery with Shipt.
But our design partnership work was just as important because it reminded our guests of one of the things they truly love about us – our ability to make great design accessible to all.
Of course, we want guests to love the products we create and be inspired to make a purchase, but what made this really powerful is that it was a celebration of what makes us special in the eyes of our guests.
A Conversation With Kurt Kendall Analytics Chief At Publishers Clearing House
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Talbot: In a retail environment that shifts and reshapes itself at a dizzying pace, how do you keep marketing strategy relevant without losing sight of core objectives?
Gomez: Marketing has a seat at the table in everything we do. Target Run, which I mentioned, is a great example of the role we play in driving the business. When we created this campaign, it was all about supporting our food, beverage and essentials categories. Today, it’s helping us drive further adoption of the same-day fulfillment services our guests love.
We’re also constantly looking at how we’re showing up in the world – with a strong focus on inclusivity. Because the road to growth is one of bringing people in and making everyone feel like they belong when they’re shopping at Target.
More than three-quarters of Americans live within a short drive of a Target store. We’re accessible to everyone through our app and website. That means the days of a singular view of the Target guest are over.
We serve people from every walk of life, so for marketing to provide value to our business, we have to consider all of our guests.
Talbot: What role do your house brands, either individually or in aggregate, play in terms of positioning Target?
Gomez: Guests love Target for our curated assortment of owned and national brands. Both play a big role in our success.
That said, our owned brands are an amazing differentiator for Target. In every area of our business – particularly apparel, accessories, home, electronics and food and beverage – our owned brands give our guests access to great products at great prices that they can only find at Target.
Over the last few years, we’ve rolled out more than 30 new owned brands as part of a broader strategy to reimagine the Target experience. And our guests’ response shows that they love what they’re seeing.
Talbot: Any other observations you would care to share on marketing strategy?
Gomez: I’d go back to the importance of inclusivity. This is something I can’t stress enough.
That’s why I’d encourage every brand to think about the stories they’re telling through their marketing. Really look hard at how you’re showing up and the messages you’re sending. And then ask, “Who am I missing? Who else can I invite in?”
I think there’s a tremendous opportunity out there for brands that can find those universal truths that are relevant to their business and use those to not only bring people in, but to bring people together.
Impact of Fashion on Society
Fashion has taken to our society for ages. The concept of fashion is not new, it&rsquos just that definition of the fashion has changed a lot these days and so is fashion. Fashion is like wind and is changing rapidly and there is a lot that has added on the fashion these days. Earlier accessories were not an important part of fashion whereas these days accessories like bracelets, studs and fancy watches have become a part of our daily fashion routine and at times these accessories are even more costly than our dresses. We can hardly see anyone on the streets who isn't fashion conscious. From school going students to the working-age professionals, everyone wants to look the best and keeps up with the fashion regularly. One of the many factors responsible for the spread and the craze of fashion among people are television and the media. These mediums highlight the fashion statement of the celebrities regularly and watching them on television also creates an ardent among inside the viewer to look best. Fashion or "style" in the colloquial language can be called contagious because people get influenced by one who already is fashion conscious. Everyone wants to follow the latest fashion.
Fashion enhances human life because not only it allows you to dress fashionably but also gives an opportunity to be independent in your thinking, helps to maintain positive self-esteem, and serves as a form of entertainment. Fashion has taken us all stronger and there is no harm being fashionable but in a limit. Being fashion conscious not only makes you popular among your folks but also tends to boost your confidence level to a great extent. Fashion is the prevailing custom, usage or style during a particular time. For some, fashion is a way of releasing their inward feelings and expression. There is no doubt that fashion has taken up the present generation in every possible manner, also the decision is in our hands to decide what to wear and what not.
A lot of people define their fashion statement as their comfort and always wear whatever they are comfortable in. but maintaining the decorum of an event it is really necessary to dress specifically for an occasion which is often known as dressing sense and is very closely related to the fashion. You cannot imagine yourself in a marriage function wearing your tracksuit and sports shoes or go on jogging or to the gym wearing a formal suit. Hence there are times when fashion and dressing sense are very important for us to accommodate ourselves with the customs of society. If we are living in a society then we have to follow certain rules and regulations. Hence there is no harm in the following fashion but in a limit.
25 Simple, Delicious Chicken Drumstick Recipes
You can eat these easy-to-make, tasty dishes with your hands!
When it comes to dinner, we all want something simple yet delicious. One of the best go-to meals that fit that description is chicken, specifically chicken drumsticks because you can do so much with them. There are hundreds of chicken drumstick recipes that are savory, sweet, spicy, and perhaps a mix of all three to satisfy everyones tastebuds. Even better? It's often a quick fix for a hungry crowd because of how easy it is to marinate, and toss into a crock pot. Pull it off the bone, shred it, or eat it as you're meant to (with your hands!). There's so much variety, especially among these 25 chicken drumstick recipes that contain everything from lime and brown sugar, to bacon, that you simply can't help but cook some up. Dinner will be made simple, but the flavors you put into your mouth won't be.
Experiment with a combination of honey and lime in your next drumstick dish. The honey makes it sweet, while the lime gives it a tartness you wouldn't expect to be delicious.
Perfect for the person who likes some spice, this Jamaican Jerk BBQ Chicken recipe is even better than traditional fried drumsticks because of the way sauces and seasons marinate fully over the course of eight hours in the slow cooker.
Cut down on fat and calories with these breaded but oven-baked drumsticks that taste fantastic with the light lemon dipping sauce.
This homemade sweet and sour chicken recipe will taste as good as the Chinese food you order to your door. Its most surprising ingredient? Peaches.
A marinade of crushed pineapples, brown sugar, ginger, and garlic will give you a drumstick that makes you feel like you're dining on a tropical island.
Although the flavors of this recipe are delicious, it's the crunchy, crispy, skin that really puts this meal over the edge.
With only a 35-minute prep time, this chicken recipe will quickly become a weeknight favorite.
Skip the drive-thru and make your family's favorite fried chicken at home in no time with this lightened-up recipe. Made with cornflakes and baked instead of fried, this dinner tastes just like your favorite fast food.
A one-pan dish that is perfect for serving to larger groups of people.
A tailgate favorite gets the dinnertime treatment. Don't forget the blue cheese!
This comforting classic has a flavorful twist: mustard-tarragon sauce!
Whipping up this peppery and citrusy seasoning combination takes almost no time and the best part is you probably already have all the ingredients in your pantry.
Ribs reign supreme in Memphis, Tennessee. They're prepared with a simple spice rub, smoked, then sprinkled with more of the seasoning before serving. Swap in grilled chicken and you've got dinner in minutes instead of hours. Serve with your favorite cornbread.
Though this dish is traditionally made with veal shank, this recipe shaves off a lot of fat and sodium by using chicken and just two teaspoons of olive oil &mdash allowing a heady mix of spices to do the work instead.
Made famous by the former New York City-based specialty food shop The Silver Palate, this dish is a mix of sweet, salty, and tangy flavors &mdash the result of pairing pungent olives, capers, and prunes with white wine, brown sugar, and parsley.
A simple but flavor-packed glaze makes these easy and economical drumsticks into a wow-worthy meal.
For added crunch, serve the accompanying potato salad on a bed of lettuce.
These classic game-day treats are perfect for any TV-viewing party. Serve these with creamy blue-cheese dressing.
Spatchcocking the chicken (removing the backbone so it lies flat) and placing it on a bed of onions cuts up to 20 minutes off of the roasting time and infuses the dish with flavor.
A dish that only takes 20 min to make, and only has two ingredients. Where do we sign up?
Because you can never go wrong with a mix of sweet and sour, we added an addition Sweet 'n' Tangy Drumstick recipe to give your tastebuds some variety.
For the family that likes their chicken simple, this recipe is for you.
Has bacon ever made anything bad? Here, the sweetness of the BBQ sauce blends perfectly with he saltiness of the crispy bacon.
If you're in the mood for some barbecue, these drumsticks doused in delicious barbecue sauce are finger-lickin' good.
15 Best Homemade Dog Treats to Pamper Your Pup
You can make doggie donuts and frozen pupsicles in flavors like peanut butter, pumpkin, bacon, and more.
You know your pup loves treats &mdash and even more so, you know she loves treats that look like people food. Seriously, how else could you explain that face she gives you every time you prepare a snack? It turns out, making your own homemade dog treats is easier than you think. Your pup might even love them extra after seeing &mdash and smelling! &mdash them being prepared in the kitchen. No matter your dog's size, whether she's small, medium, or large, we guarantee she'll love to indulge (just make make sure you buy appropriate-sized treat molds).
You can find everything you need to make these homemade dog treats at your local grocery store &mdash and could even eat any of them yourself if you felt like it. We've included dog treats you can bake in the oven, as well as ones you can chill in the refrigerator or freezer. These treats include a range of flavors too, from peanut butter and bacon to veggie broth and carrot. You can avoid any food allergies your dog has and cater to her unique dietary needs, although you should contact her vet with any specific concerns. Before you know it, your pup will love these treats even more than her favorite dog toys.
February 22, 2020 | Fort Lauderdale. FL
Calling foodies of all ages – for a night of fun, food and film in the vibrant City of Hallandale Beach! The whole gang can have fun under the stars while enjoying wine samples and family-friendly beverages, delicious bites from some of South Florida’s best food trucks, and a complimentary screening of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs! The exceedingly charming Valerie Bertinelli, host of Valerie’s Home Cooking and co-host of Kids Baking Championship on Food Network, will serve as host for this evening soirée! Presented in collaboration with Miami Dade College’s Miami Film Festival, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is the wildly imaginative family animation tale of an inventor and a weather-reporter intern trying to discover why the sky is raining food instead of water, directed by Christopher Miller and Miami native Phil Lord. The City of Hallandale Beach invites you to visit for an enchanting evening of foodie and movie magic!
37 best cardigans for your wardrobe in 2021
Our editors independently selected these items because we think you will enjoy them and might like them at these prices. If you purchase something through our links, we may earn a commission. Pricing and availability are accurate as of publish time. Learn more about Shop TODAY.
Now that spring is here, it's time to put away the heavy coats and break out the light sweaters and cardigans. Having a go-to cardigan is perfect for days when you're lounging around the house or for adding a pop of color to your outfit.
As the weather warms up, cardigans make for a great lightweight layer, especially on those in-between days where it's not hot enough to lose an outer layer altogether, but it's also not cold enough to wear a jacket.
You can never have too many basic cardigans, so we searched for some of the bestselling styles from retailers like Amazon, Walmart and Target. Whether it's a classic black cardigan or a statement piece, these picks are sure to elevate all of your spring outfits.
How to Make Your Own Shampoo With Ingredients You Have in Your Kitchen
Clean up your shower routine with these simple, natural hair recipes.
No one wants to go around with an oily mop, but some of the products designed to clean said mop can take a toll on your scalp, or cost a premium at the drugstore. The solution? Homemade shampoos made with natural ingredients you already have in your house.
Before you write off the idea of homemade shampoo as the domain of hippies, rest assured that these DIY recipes really do get your hair clean and shiny, whether your hair is oily, dry, or somewhere in between. See below for our easy, homemade shampoo recipes.
Basic Homemade Shampoo
- ½ cup water
- ½ cup castile vegetable-based liquid soap like Dr. Bronner&rsquos (available on Amazon)
- 1 teaspoon light vegetable oil or glycerine (omit if you have oily hair)
- A few drops of your favorite essential oil (optional)
Combine ingredients, mix well, and put in a recycled shampoo bottle. Use a palm-full of the shampoo or less to lather once, and then rinse with warm water. This homemade shampoo is thinner than commercial shampoo and it won&rsquot suds as much &mdash but it will eliminate oil and grime just as well as the over-the-counter stuff.
Herbal Homemade Shampoo
For a naturally scented shampoo, opt for a scented castile soap, or substitute ½ cup strong herbal tea &mdash chamomile, lavender, and rosemary are good choices &mdash for water in the Basic Shampoo recipe.
Homemade Apple Cider Vinegar Shampoo
If you want to know the real secret to truly healthy hair, grab a box of baking soda and some apple cider vinegar. Note that the mixture works well, but it can take a while for your hair to adjust (i.e., it might be very oily at first).
Put a few tablespoons of baking soda in the bottom of a repurposed squeeze bottle, top it off with hot water, and shake it well. (You can add a few drops of your favorite essential oil, too, for scent.) After it settles for a few minutes, apply ¼ cup to wet hair, work it through with fingers, and rinse it out. There are no suds, but this homemade mixture leaves hair clean and shiny. Follow that with this basic rinse recipe: Mix ½ cup of apple cider vinegar or fresh lemon juice with two cups water. Pour it through your wet hair and rinse with cool water.
Egg Yolk Conditioner
Right before you wash your hair with your homemade shampoo, beat the egg yolk until it&rsquos frothy, add oil and beat again, then add water slowly while beating. Pour the mix through wet hair, working it in with your fingers. Allow it to set for a few minutes then rinse it out with warm water.
For dry or damaged hair, using a deep conditioner once a week can make a huge difference. You can use any of the following in combination or alone: olive oil, coconut oil, beaten egg, yogurt, mayonnaise, mashed banana, or mashed avocado.
Massage any of these into wet hair, wrap it all up turban-style in an old towel for 20 minutes, and rinse well.
Herbal Color-Modifying Rinses
While none of these will turn blond hair black or black hair strawberry blonde, using them on a regular basis can add highlights and even tone down some graying strands.
To lighten hair: Soak in strong chamomile tea, diluted lemon juice, or tea made with fresh rhubarb. For more pronounced results, allow rinse to dry in hair &mdash outside in the sunshine if possible.
To darken hair and mellow out graying strands: Strong sage, lavender, or cinnamon tea.
To add reddish highlights and tint: Hibiscus flower tea.
Citrus Natural Hair Spray Recipe
Chop fruit finely, simmer the pieces in water until they are soft and the liquid is half gone. Strain liquid into a small spray bottle and store in refrigerator between uses. Spray finished hair lightly dilute with water if sprayed hair is stiffer than you desire.
Easy Anti-Static Treatment for Dry Hair
Put a small dab of natural hand lotion in one palm, rub hands together to coat both evenly, and run your fingers through your hair.
38 Best Mexican Dinner Recipes to Make Tonight
Enchiladas, chilaquiles, and Pico de Gallo &mdash we've got you covered.
What comes to mind when you think of Mexican food? On our list, you'll find everything from authentic recipes to Americanized dishes inspired by Mexican cuisine. But all of the ideas on our list are included for good reason &mdash they're totally delicious!
From light and crispy quesadillas to rich and savory chilaquiles (and a dulce de leche cookie or two thrown in for good measure), these recipes show how versatile Mexican cuisine is. Whether you're looking for a light, easy recipe to make lunch or for a dinner fit to feed a crowd, you're bound to find something delicious to whip up here. No matter what the occasion, here are the best Mexican recipes to try this week.
How Companies Learn Your Secrets
Andrew Pole had just started working as a statistician for Target in 2002, when two colleagues from the marketing department stopped by his desk to ask an odd question: “If we wanted to figure out if a customer is pregnant, even if she didn’t want us to know, can you do that? ”
Pole has a master’s degree in statistics and another in economics, and has been obsessed with the intersection of data and human behavior most of his life. His parents were teachers in North Dakota, and while other kids were going to 4-H, Pole was doing algebra and writing computer programs. “The stereotype of a math nerd is true,” he told me when I spoke with him last year. “I kind of like going out and evangelizing analytics.”
As the marketers explained to Pole — and as Pole later explained to me, back when we were still speaking and before Target told him to stop — new parents are a retailer’s holy grail. Most shoppers don’t buy everything they need at one store. Instead, they buy groceries at the grocery store and toys at the toy store, and they visit Target only when they need certain items they associate with Target — cleaning supplies, say, or new socks or a six-month supply of toilet paper. But Target sells everything from milk to stuffed animals to lawn furniture to electronics, so one of the company’s primary goals is convincing customers that the only store they need is Target. But it’s a tough message to get across, even with the most ingenious ad campaigns, because once consumers’ shopping habits are ingrained, it’s incredibly difficult to change them.
There are, however, some brief periods in a person’s life when old routines fall apart and buying habits are suddenly in flux. One of those moments — the moment, really — is right around the birth of a child, when parents are exhausted and overwhelmed and their shopping patterns and brand loyalties are up for grabs. But as Target’s marketers explained to Pole, timing is everything. Because birth records are usually public, the moment a couple have a new baby, they are almost instantaneously barraged with offers and incentives and advertisements from all sorts of companies. Which means that the key is to reach them earlier, before any other retailers know a baby is on the way. Specifically, the marketers said they wanted to send specially designed ads to women in their second trimester, which is when most expectant mothers begin buying all sorts of new things, like prenatal vitamins and maternity clothing. “Can you give us a list?” the marketers asked.
“We knew that if we could identify them in their second trimester, there’s a good chance we could capture them for years,” Pole told me. “As soon as we get them buying diapers from us, they’re going to start buying everything else too. If you’re rushing through the store, looking for bottles, and you pass orange juice, you’ll grab a carton. Oh, and there’s that new DVD I want. Soon, you’ll be buying cereal and paper towels from us, and keep coming back.”
The desire to collect information on customers is not new for Target or any other large retailer, of course. For decades, Target has collected vast amounts of data on every person who regularly walks into one of its stores. Whenever possible, Target assigns each shopper a unique code — known internally as the Guest ID number — that keeps tabs on everything they buy. “If you use a credit card or a coupon, or fill out a survey, or mail in a refund, or call the customer help line, or open an e-mail we’ve sent you or visit our Web site, we’ll record it and link it to your Guest ID,” Pole said. “We want to know everything we can.”
Also linked to your Guest ID is demographic information like your age, whether you are married and have kids, which part of town you live in, how long it takes you to drive to the store, your estimated salary, whether you’ve moved recently, what credit cards you carry in your wallet and what Web sites you visit. Target can buy data about your ethnicity, job history, the magazines you read, if you’ve ever declared bankruptcy or got divorced, the year you bought (or lost) your house, where you went to college, what kinds of topics you talk about online, whether you prefer certain brands of coffee, paper towels, cereal or applesauce, your political leanings, reading habits, charitable giving and the number of cars you own. (In a statement, Target declined to identify what demographic information it collects or purchases.) All that information is meaningless, however, without someone to analyze and make sense of it. That’s where Andrew Pole and the dozens of other members of Target’s Guest Marketing Analytics department come in.
Almost every major retailer, from grocery chains to investment banks to the U.S. Postal Service, has a “predictive analytics” department devoted to understanding not just consumers’ shopping habits but also their personal habits, so as to more efficiently market to them. “But Target has always been one of the smartest at this,” says Eric Siegel, a consultant and the chairman of a conference called Predictive Analytics World. “We’re living through a golden age of behavioral research. It’s amazing how much we can figure out about how people think now.”
The reason Target can snoop on our shopping habits is that, over the past two decades, the science of habit formation has become a major field of research in neurology and psychology departments at hundreds of major medical centers and universities, as well as inside extremely well financed corporate labs. “It’s like an arms race to hire statisticians nowadays,” said Andreas Weigend, the former chief scientist at Amazon.com. “Mathematicians are suddenly sexy.” As the ability to analyze data has grown more and more fine-grained, the push to understand how daily habits influence our decisions has become one of the most exciting topics in clinical research, even though most of us are hardly aware those patterns exist. One study from Duke University estimated that habits, rather than conscious decision-making, shape 45 percent of the choices we make every day, and recent discoveries have begun to change everything from the way we think about dieting to how doctors conceive treatments for anxiety, depression and addictions.
This research is also transforming our understanding of how habits function across organizations and societies. A football coach named Tony Dungy propelled one of the worst teams in the N.F.L. to the Super Bowl by focusing on how his players habitually reacted to on-field cues. Before he became Treasury secretary, Paul O’Neill overhauled a stumbling conglomerate, Alcoa, and turned it into a top performer in the Dow Jones by relentlessly attacking one habit — a specific approach to worker safety — which in turn caused a companywide transformation. The Obama campaign has hired a habit specialist as its “chief scientist” to figure out how to trigger new voting patterns among different constituencies.
Researchers have figured out how to stop people from habitually overeating and biting their nails. They can explain why some of us automatically go for a jog every morning and are more productive at work, while others oversleep and procrastinate. There is a calculus, it turns out, for mastering our subconscious urges. For companies like Target, the exhaustive rendering of our conscious and unconscious patterns into data sets and algorithms has revolutionized what they know about us and, therefore, how precisely they can sell.
Inside the brain-and-cognitive-sciences department of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are what, to the casual observer, look like dollhouse versions of surgical theaters. There are rooms with tiny scalpels, small drills and miniature saws. Even the operating tables are petite, as if prepared for 7-year-old surgeons. Inside those shrunken O.R.’s, neurologists cut into the skulls of anesthetized rats, implanting tiny sensors that record the smallest changes in the activity of their brains.
An M.I.T. neuroscientist named Ann Graybiel told me that she and her colleagues began exploring habits more than a decade ago by putting their wired rats into a T-shaped maze with chocolate at one end. The maze was structured so that each animal was positioned behind a barrier that opened after a loud click. The first time a rat was placed in the maze, it would usually wander slowly up and down the center aisle after the barrier slid away, sniffing in corners and scratching at walls. It appeared to smell the chocolate but couldn’t figure out how to find it. There was no discernible pattern in the rat’s meanderings and no indication it was working hard to find the treat.
The probes in the rats’ heads, however, told a different story. While each animal wandered through the maze, its brain was working furiously. Every time a rat sniffed the air or scratched a wall, the neurosensors inside the animal’s head exploded with activity. As the scientists repeated the experiment, again and again, the rats eventually stopped sniffing corners and making wrong turns and began to zip through the maze with more and more speed. And within their brains, something unexpected occurred: as each rat learned how to complete the maze more quickly, its mental activity decreased. As the path became more and more automatic — as it became a habit — the rats started thinking less and less.
This process, in which the brain converts a sequence of actions into an automatic routine, is called “chunking.” There are dozens, if not hundreds, of behavioral chunks we rely on every day. Some are simple: you automatically put toothpaste on your toothbrush before sticking it in your mouth. Some, like making the kids’ lunch, are a little more complex. Still others are so complicated that it’s remarkable to realize that a habit could have emerged at all.
Take backing your car out of the driveway. When you first learned to drive, that act required a major dose of concentration, and for good reason: it involves peering into the rearview and side mirrors and checking for obstacles, putting your foot on the brake, moving the gearshift into reverse, removing your foot from the brake, estimating the distance between the garage and the street while keeping the wheels aligned, calculating how images in the mirrors translate into actual distances, all while applying differing amounts of pressure to the gas pedal and brake.
Now, you perform that series of actions every time you pull into the street without thinking very much. Your brain has chunked large parts of it. Left to its own devices, the brain will try to make almost any repeated behavior into a habit, because habits allow our minds to conserve effort. But conserving mental energy is tricky, because if our brains power down at the wrong moment, we might fail to notice something important, like a child riding her bike down the sidewalk or a speeding car coming down the street. So we’ve devised a clever system to determine when to let a habit take over. It’s something that happens whenever a chunk of behavior starts or ends — and it helps to explain why habits are so difficult to change once they’re formed, despite our best intentions.
To understand this a little more clearly, consider again the chocolate-seeking rats. What Graybiel and her colleagues found was that, as the ability to navigate the maze became habitual, there were two spikes in the rats’ brain activity — once at the beginning of the maze, when the rat heard the click right before the barrier slid away, and once at the end, when the rat found the chocolate. Those spikes show when the rats’ brains were fully engaged, and the dip in neural activity between the spikes showed when the habit took over. From behind the partition, the rat wasn’t sure what waited on the other side, until it heard the click, which it had come to associate with the maze. Once it heard that sound, it knew to use the “maze habit,” and its brain activity decreased. Then at the end of the routine, when the reward appeared, the brain shook itself awake again and the chocolate signaled to the rat that this particular habit was worth remembering, and the neurological pathway was carved that much deeper.
The process within our brains that creates habits is a three-step loop. First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future. Over time, this loop — cue, routine, reward cue, routine, reward — becomes more and more automatic. The cue and reward become neurologically intertwined until a sense of craving emerges. What’s unique about cues and rewards, however, is how subtle they can be. Neurological studies like the ones in Graybiel’s lab have revealed that some cues span just milliseconds. And rewards can range from the obvious (like the sugar rush that a morning doughnut habit provides) to the infinitesimal (like the barely noticeable — but measurable — sense of relief the brain experiences after successfully navigating the driveway). Most cues and rewards, in fact, happen so quickly and are so slight that we are hardly aware of them at all. But our neural systems notice and use them to build automatic behaviors.
Habits aren’t destiny — they can be ignored, changed or replaced. But it’s also true that once the loop is established and a habit emerges, your brain stops fully participating in decision-making. So unless you deliberately fight a habit — unless you find new cues and rewards — the old pattern will unfold automatically.
“We’ve done experiments where we trained rats to run down a maze until it was a habit, and then we extinguished the habit by changing the placement of the reward,” Graybiel told me. “Then one day, we’ll put the reward in the old place and put in the rat and, by golly, the old habit will re-emerge right away. Habits never really disappear.”
Luckily, simply understanding how habits work makes them easier to control. Take, for instance, a series of studies conducted a few years ago at Columbia University and the University of Alberta. Researchers wanted to understand how exercise habits emerge. In one project, 256 members of a health-insurance plan were invited to classes stressing the importance of exercise. Half the participants received an extra lesson on the theories of habit formation (the structure of the habit loop) and were asked to identify cues and rewards that might help them develop exercise routines.
The results were dramatic. Over the next four months, those participants who deliberately identified cues and rewards spent twice as much time exercising as their peers. Other studies have yielded similar results. According to another recent paper, if you want to start running in the morning, it’s essential that you choose a simple cue (like always putting on your sneakers before breakfast or leaving your running clothes next to your bed) and a clear reward (like a midday treat or even the sense of accomplishment that comes from ritually recording your miles in a log book). After a while, your brain will start anticipating that reward — craving the treat or the feeling of accomplishment — and there will be a measurable neurological impulse to lace up your jogging shoes each morning.
Our relationship to e-mail operates on the same principle. When a computer chimes or a smartphone vibrates with a new message, the brain starts anticipating the neurological “pleasure” (even if we don’t recognize it as such) that clicking on the e-mail and reading it provides. That expectation, if unsatisfied, can build until you find yourself moved to distraction by the thought of an e-mail sitting there unread — even if you know, rationally, it’s most likely not important. On the other hand, once you remove the cue by disabling the buzzing of your phone or the chiming of your computer, the craving is never triggered, and you’ll find, over time, that you’re able to work productively for long stretches without checking your in-box.