The Power of Habit – My Cappuccino Love

Today it seems to be very normal for many people to afford a coffee to go almost daily. Coffee shops can be found almost everywhere and since disposable cups have become a serious waste problem, you can now see many people walking through the cities with colorful, reusable cups. I also love to go to these coffee shops. My preference for a certain chain has a rather romantic background. When I started my first job, drinking coffee became a habit very quickly. I didn’t take much time to eat but the coffee filled my stomach for some time and kept me going. When we moved into a new office, I found there was one of those shops on my way to work. We had a very good coffee machine in the office but no milk foamer and I really liked cappuccino. So, occasionally I got myself a cappuccino “To Go”. With my rather low initial salary, I was well aware that I couldn’t afford this luxury every day.

One morning, there was a new barista. He smiled at me and his blue eyes immediately captivated me. He asked for my order and as I couldn’t say anything for a moment, I stammered somewhat embarrassed: “A medium cappuccino with low-fat milk please.”

“Can you tell me your name?” Again, I hesitated, and so he added “I’m writing it on your cup.” He was still smiling. Meanwhile I blushed and so I quickly told him my name, paid and went a little further to the counter to wait for my cappuccino. “Medium cappuccino with low-fat milk for Annette.” another employee called out. I didn’t like it when people misspelled and pronounced my name like this. I grabbed my cup and left without another glance in the direction of the new barista. The cold morning air was refreshing and made sure that my face color returned to normal. Of course, I told my colleague about the new barista and so she wanted to accompany me the next morning to see who had swept me off my feet. The queue was extremely long and so she stretched out to have a better view. Meanwhile, I wished I hadn’t told her anything, just hoping she wouldn’t embarrass me. When it was our turn, I pushed her in front of me so she could place her order. The barista smiled at her too and asked for her name.
However, as I stood in front of him his smile became even warmer. I still tried to hide my embarrassment and not to stare into his blue eyes. So, I concentrated on counting my money. When he asked my name again, I braced up, smiled at him, and replied: “Annett, A n n e t t and no second e.” He had to laugh and said, “That even rhymes. A n n e t t and no second e.” he slowly spelled my name while putting it on the cup. Now I was laughing too.
My colleague watched the scene with amusement and pulled me away when she noticed that one of the men behind me was pretty annoyed and staring at his watch. “Stop flirting, we have to go to the office,” she whispered at me. We took our cups and when we stepped outside, she pointed at my cappuccino with a pretended sad face. “I didn’t get that smiley.”

Of course, we went back to the coffee shop the next morning. Again, there was the extra smiley on my cup, and she told me laughing: “It will be an expensive flirt if you go for a cappuccino every day now. I can’t come along that often.” Still, I couldn’t help it and so I went to buy my cappuccino on the fourth morning. This time he just took a cup and while writing he said: “Medium cappuccino with low-fat milk for Annett without e.” After I had paid, he asked his colleague to take over the cash register and prepared my cappuccino himself. I went to the end of the counter. When he gave me my cup, he smiled, quickly slipped me a napkin and a pen, and asked for my phone number.

This meeting in the coffee shop turned into a wonderful romance. We had hardly any time to meet during the week because he had to write his thesis in the evening. At least we saw each other in the morning, during work breaks, and on weekends. The cappuccino became a nice, though expensive ritual. Unfortunately, he got a job offer in another city after graduation. I hadn’t been long enough in my job to consider a change already. I stayed in Berlin and he moved to Bavaria. The long-distance relationship was unfortunately doomed to fail due to the lack of time and money. We separated with a heavy heart. Nevertheless, I still like to remember this relationship when I order a coffee to go from this chain.

Now you may wonder what this story has to do with the power of habit. My boyfriend had already given up his job as a barista during our relationship and I could have returned to drinking more coffee in the office again. But I had gotten used to the luxury of my morning cappuccino because I associated positive emotions with it. It was only when I changed jobs and there was no longer a coffee shop on my way to work that I changed this habit and drank more coffee at the office again.

In his bestseller The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg describes how we develop habits and which factors contribute to them with many good examples. The link with positive emotions is only one of these influences. It is important to understand that we do not actively control most of our actions. The more often we do them and the more they become a ritual, the less we can actively influence them. We run on autopilot, so to speak. This autopilot is different from person to person. Everybody has different habits and therefore there is no patent remedy to switch off bad habits. Whether smoking, overeating or the daily cappuccino. Everybody has their individual history and connected with it are positive and negative habits. Charles Duhigg describes the development of habits with the Habit Loop. The Habit Loop shows how our brain works when habits are formed. Basically, it deals with three topics, as you can see in the graphic:

Let’s take my cappuccino habit as an example: The routine was to buy a cappuccino. What was the original cue or trigger? Of course, it was the desire for a delicious cappuccino. And the reward? The enjoyment of the cappuccino on the way to work and the feeling of indulging myself in this little luxury. But then a new trigger came into play. The desire to see the barista again and then to be able to see him in the morning throughout our relationship.
The reward was, of course, all the nice feelings I associated with it and so it became a routine. Our brain starts building connections. I suddenly connected so many positive feelings with the cappuccino. Even when my boyfriend no longer worked there, I still felt the same joy when I bought my cappuccino. This explains in a very simple way “the power of habit”.

Perhaps you have developed habits in a similar way. For example, a friend of mine realized that she didn’t like chocolate croissants for breakfast anymore when her favorite baker closed down and she had to switch to another breakfast. To her, it had simply become a habit. It is absolutely normal that we develop habits. They help us master our lives. The only reason to question them is when we develop habits that trouble us and even cause damage. It is important to not only look at why we developed them. Consider it helpful to have a close look at the Habit Loop associated with each habit. If you know which cue causes an action and what the reward is, then you can work on transforming negative habits into positive ones. You will find a template in the Challenge that will make it easier for you to reflect on your habits.

There are, by the way, reasons why the respective coffeeshop chain puts customer names on the cups. This has nothing to do with avoiding the confusion of customer orders, but much more with positive feelings. The personalized cup triggers positive feelings, because you feel appreciated as a customer and associate good service with it. Although there are cheaper coffee shops with better coffee, this is a great example that marketing works with the power of habit too. A positive customer experience triggers us to come back again. Over the course of three years, my cappuccino habit has cost me a small fortune. Luckily my salary was increased but if you calculate it more exactly, the sum becomes quite impressive and maybe it would have been better to invest the money in some more train tickets.

Here you can learn more about Charles Duhigg:

Post a Comment