The Power of Habit

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg is one of the finest examples of research applicable to daily life. It is not a motivational/transformational/inspirational book with unlimited quotes by the great men of the world. It, however, most probably will change your life for the better in more significant ways than any (or most) self-help books can. Duhigg takes us on a journey into the mechanics of habits, the cue-habit-reward-craving feedback loop, and explains how habits affect groups and societies in general. It is one of the rare must reads featured on this site!

Habits are formed by four simple mechanisms. It all starts with a cue, for instance getting out of bed. What follows is a habit; eating your breakfast or brushing your teeth. And the habit ends with a reward, a full stomach, and fresh minty teeth. Of course, this habit has not formed without a feedback loop. The feedback loop states that habits are formed by a craving, you will expect the reward before you execute the habit. In the case of eating your breakfast or brushing your teeth, you will know in advance the pleasant feeling of a full stomach and fresh minty teeth.

In The Power of Habit, Duhigg relies heavily on real-life examples to get his (scientifically solid) points across. To show that the mechanics of habits are automatic he builds on the story of Eugene Pauly, a man who through an accident has lost the ability to consciously remember new things. The book explains how he is not able to draw a map of his house, but through habits has learned to flawlessly navigate his house. One finding that is implicitly mentioned throughout the book is that habits are more than brushing your teeth every day, most of our behaviour is automatic (because our brains are lazy).

You are now asking yourself; but how can I change a habit I am not particularly fond of? Duhigg states that habits rarely die out (that is why you remember how to swim when you have not been in the water for over a year). He proposes that you should change the routine, the actual behaviour, but keep the same cue and reward. This is what the AA does, it identifies the cues and rewards why a person drinks (which is rarely to get drunk). Reasons for drinking could be an escape, companionship, and emotional release. This is what the AA offers, regular meetings and a buddy that replace the routines but keep the same cues and rewards.

Further on in the book, the power of habits is taken to the societal level. A habit to help your close friends (strong ties) is one of the underlying causes why the Montgomery bus boycott was the start of the end of segregation. A habit to adhere to the norms of the social group you belong to have helped spread the boycott. And habits are what formed the new identity of the people involved in the change. Habits, therefore, have the power to change not only individuals but whole societies.

Other topics in the book discuss how Target knows that you are pregnant before you have told anyone, how Tony Dungy made his team the Super Bowl champions, and how keystone habits have transformed Alcoa into one of the most profitable and safe companies in the world. One notable tip from the book to end with is the argument for small wins. Duhigg describes that you can create small habits that you can easily succeed in every day. Doing a few exercises every morning, reading your goals out loud, having breakfast, or writing down your achievements each day are only but a few examples. I will no longer keep you occupied with this review and would like to encourage you to read (or listen) to The Power of Habit as soon as possible!

Also see Triggers.


The Book:

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life And Business – ISBN-10: 1400069289 | ISBN-13: 978-1400069286



More on The Power of Habits: – Charles Duhigg’s official website – Review of The Power of Habit – Article on habits– Review of The Power of Habit – Summary of The Power of Habit – Habits according to ZenHabits