The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg is an engaging and empowering book all about how each one of us truly are – as Duhigg and many others have noted – creatures of habit. Nearly everything we do from how we talk to our friends and loved ones to what we “choose” to eat for lunch each day is really just a habit that has been ingrained in our minds over time. Duhigg takes the reader on a journey starting with an explanation of what habits are to how they dictate our lives on a societal level. It turns out that this same habit loop that causes us to brush our teeth every morning turned Rosa Park’s famous bus seating protest into a nation wide rallying call for civil rights.
Who is this book for:
If you are looking for a quick and informative read on how to alter your habits to increase your work performance or or decrease the number of oreos you eat after dinner, then you will likely get all of the information you need from the first 90 pages of the book and the appendix. However, that is not to say that the other 180 pages wont help you on that quest as well. I found that the detail of habit transformation that went on in Alcoa and how it had ripple effects throughout the whole company was inspirational, and kept me motivated on my personal journey. If you are trying to start a business then it is likely that the 2nd and 3rd parts of this book will be most helpful to you. Did you know that Febreeze only became a staple household item because of research done on habit training? Yeah, same… I totally knew that before too…
On Part 1: The Habits of Individuals
Duhigg goes from explaining how habits form and why the brain craves them to giving the reader a simple tool kit for identifying and altering them. He shows that to change a habit, one must first identify the action and what reward we get from going through with this action. For instance, I noticed that I frequently check my phone while I am at work for no good reason at all, and it ends up distracting me for longer than I would like it to. So then I asked my self: “why do I constantly want to check my phone every 30 minutes? What satisfaction is my brain getting out of this?” After a few days of mental note taking, I determined that when I check my phone, I feel an instant sense of relief – like a large weight being lifted from my shoulders. I feel relieved that I don’t have to focus on my work for the next couple of minutes. The next part of tackling our nasty habits is figuring out what “cue” is causing us to perform them. With the help of Duhigg’s appendix (no not his literal appendix, the one in the book!) on habit transformation, I was able to identify the cue for my phone checking habit. By writing down these 5 things the moment the urge hits:
Immediately Preceding Action
I was able to see my “cue” amidst the noise of a busy work day. For me, I noticed that my emotional state had the largest impact on whether or not I felt the urge to distract myself with Instagram or Reddit on my phone. While the other four variables saw little consistency, heres a short list of some emotional states I recorded immediately preceding the urge: frustrated, agitated, distracted, upset, antsy, stuck. See a theme here? Long story short, I followed Duhigg’s plan he laid forth, and replaced my phone checking habit with taking a 5 min walk outside any time I felt any of those unpleasant emotions. While I haven’t mastered staying off the phone at work, I at least have minimized it and have a framework for improvement going forward.
“Hacking” the habit cycle
Parts 2 and 3 of The Power of Habit show – for lack of a better phrase – the power of habit. Part 2 is about the habits of successful organizations like Alcoa and Starbucks, who use habit training to get the most out of their employees and deliver the best service to their customers. Part 3 goes on to show how it was a change in habit that propelled the Montgomery bus boycott into a national movement for civil rights in the 50s and 60s in the USA. I won’t go further into detail on these parts of the book because while they are interesting, they are written much more in the short story style than part I, and I know Duhigg will do these stories much more justice than I could in this article. However, I will say that it was really helpful to see how habits fit into the bigger picture of companies and social movements. These stories demonstrate just how much positive change can come about by altering a single habit.
I found this book to be incredibly helpful in my personal life for breaking tough habits as well as extremely informative on the power of habit on a national scale. I wanted this book in particular to be the first one that I write about on my Book Club page because I want growing this page to become a solid habit in my life. I’ve wanted to establish something like this Book Club for a long time, but I kept pushing it aside and telling myself I didn’t have time for it, or that it would get done at some point. However, with the habit changing tool kit and motivation provided by The Power of Habit, I feel empowered to keep this train rolling!