Book 253: The Power of Habit – Charles Duhigg

Duhigg, Charles - The Power of HabitCharles Duhigg refers to this work as “a framework for understanding how habits work and a guide to experimenting with how they might change” (loc. 4405) and, not surprising, that’s exactly what it is. The Power of Habit provides an overview of how people, businesses and social movements have harnessed the processes behind building habits. And there is no doubt that Duhigg is a good writer. I found myself tearing up on multiple occasions, more for the story itself rather than his writing, but his ability to select the examples and write about them in such a way to evoke emotions is undeniable.

If you’re a regular reader of my blog you’re well aware that I spent 2013 working hard to make progress towards getting healthier physically. What I didn’t take the time on last year was my mental health. I knew coming in to 2014, I wanted to read books about various topics that I think could help me in my future relationships and friendships, my self doubts and even my future career (apparently a lot of the self-help books are found in therapy, business and self-help; odd?). So be forewarned this blog might get more personal than it ever has in the past.

I first heard about this book on the brilliant podcast Books on the Nightstand and immediately put it on hold at the library. (Yay library book 2!) I found the conversation between Duhigg and Michael Kindness, cohost of Books on the Nightstand, fascinating and I wanted to learn more about the book and the thoughts/science behind the book.

I’m not going to lie as I read the book I slowly became more and more disappointed. I expected it to be a how-to guide: as in, here are the five steps you need to change your life. However, this didn’t detract from the book itself because the examples were fascinating! From a young woman who bit her nails so bad that her fingers were mere stubs to multi-billion dollar companies and a sports team with a horrible record to the 1960s Civil Rights movement Duhigg dissects how each of these used the power of habits to successfully overcome some sort of obstacle.

Each of these examples and the many I haven’t mentioned add something different and provide evidence from a multitude of different sources further Duhigg’s premise that there are simple steps to identify and modify, if you want, to overcome something that is a habit. He even provides ways to figure out if something is a habit and how to figure out what the underlying root cause of the habit is.

And even though I mentioned above that I was sad the book was more examples than how-to, I immediately found out by reading the afterward that Duhigg DID include a how-to guide! He explained that everyone’s habits are different and that this isn’t a plug and play type how-to, but more of a starting point and I truly appreciated this.

What I found most interesting about the book is that Duhigg was not recreating the wheel. I found myself nodding throughout the entire book, identifying things which I have already implemented over the past year, and previous times in my life, to change habits. However, where the author seriously helps is that he puts it into simple terms that allowed me to comprehend and process things that I have done subconsciously in the past. He also through the stories provided me with examples on specifically what to do for habits that I knew were habits but had no idea how to approach.

Recommendation: So long story short, I think EVERYONE needs to read this book. I will more than likely buy copies to give to friends and I’ve already recommended people to read it. I’m sure I will buy a copy for myself since I checked this one out from the library. And personally, I can’t wait to start implementing a few of the suggestions Duhigg dug up to implement a few changes I want to make in my life.

Opening Line: “She was the scientists’ favorite participant.”

Closing Line: “You now know how to redirect that path. You now have the power to swim.” (Not whited out as this is a work of nonfiction.)

Additional quotes from The Power of Habit
“By focusing on one pattern—what is known as a “keystone habit” — Lisa had taught herself how to reprogram the other routines in her life, as well.” (Loc. 102)

“Habits, scientists say, emerge because the brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort.” (Loc. 406)

“Habits aren’t destiny. As the next two chapters explain, habits can be ignored, changed, or replaced.” (Loc. 430)

“Habits are powerful, but delicate. They can emerge outside our consciousness, or can be deliberately designed. They often occur without our permission, but can be reshaped by fiddling with their parts. They shape our lives far more than we realize—they are so strong, in fact, that they cause our brains to cling to them at the exclusion of all else, including common sense.” (Loc. 521)

“Cravings are what drive habits. And figuring out how to spark a craving makes creating a new habit easier.” (Loc. 1016)

“Dungy recognized that you can never truly extinguish bad habits. Rather, to change a habit, you must keep the old cue, and deliver the old reward, but insert a new routine. That’s the rule: If you use the same cue, and provide the same reward, you can shift the routine and change the habit. Almost any behavior can be transformed if the cue and reward stay the same.” (Loc. 1053)

“But we do know that for habits to permanently change, people must believe that change is feasible. The same process that makes AA so effective—the power of a group to teach individuals how to believe—happens whenever people come together to help one another change. Belief is easier when it occurs within a community.” (Loc. 1457)

“The evidence is clear: If you want to change a habit, you must find an alternative routine, and your odds of success go up dramatically when you commit to changing as part of a group. Belief is essential, and it grows out of a communal experience, even if that community is only as large as two people.” (Loc. 1508)

“Willpower isn’t just a skill. It’s a muscle, like the muscles in your arms or legs, and it gets tired as it works harder, so there’s less power left over for other things.” (Loc. 2145)

“This is how willpower becomes a habit: by choosing a certain behavior ahead of time, and then following that routine when an inflection point arrives.” (Loc. 2290)

“Creating successful organizations isn’t just a matter of balancing authority. For an organization to work, leaders must cultivate habits that both create a real and balanced peace and, paradoxically, make it absolutely clear who’s in charge.” (Loc. 2590)

“Habits are not as simple as they appear. As I’ve tried to demonstrate throughout this book, habits—even once they are rooted in our minds—aren’t destiny. We can choose our habits, once we know how. Everything we know about habits, from neurologists studying amnesiacs and organizational experts remaking companies, is that any of them can be changed, if you understand how they function.” (Loc. 4161)

“Every habit abides by a set of rules, and when you understand those codes you gain influence over them. Any habit can be changed.” (Loc. 4392)

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21 thoughts on “Book 253: The Power of Habit – Charles Duhigg

  1. Glad to know you liked this one. I’ve had it on my TBR list for awhile, but haven’t seen anyone review it. So there is some discussion of how to build good habits? Obviously it’s good to break bad ones, but I’d be curious to know how he would go about building good ones.

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    • He does. He breaks it down and explains all habits follow the same basic principle so if you want to break a bad habit or build a new one you do the same thing just in different directions.

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    • Thanks for stopping by and for the comment! I picked that idea up from another blog awhile ago. I found that it helped me to read closer and pay more attention especially with nonfiction.

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  2. I’ve been hearing a lot lately that this is a book I should read. I think I’d share your disappointment that the book didn’t include more actionable advice, but going into it just expecting interesting anecdotes, I could probably enjoy it 🙂

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  3. I think I might like this one, but I was hoping for that five-step plan of how to get my act together. Step one: get your act together 🙂 Thanks for the suggestion. I’ll keep an eye out for this one. And I look forward to your journey this year!

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  5. Great review! I’ve been wanting to read this book since I listened to the Books on the Nightstand episode, too. I’m trying to get in shape this year, and I’m sure this book would help me figure out how to make going to the fitness center part of my daily routine! I know from past experience that the hardest part is making fitness a habit.

    Good luck altering/improving your habits!

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    • There are definitely a lot of great tips and it’s really all about the small things you do. I’d managed to do a lot of these prior to reading the book but it was nice to have it explained in such a way that was like “oh that’s why I did that.”

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