The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg

The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg

Title: The Power of Habit
Author: Charles Duhigg
Pages: 302
Originally Published: 2012
Format I Read: Adobe Digital Edition (via Netgalley)
Publisher: Random House
Rating: [rating:4]


I received this book for free from the publisher. All content and opinions are my own.

While I usually eschew books with any sheen of self-help about them, I could not resist the very title of The Power of Habit. Habits are something I am constantly trying to cultivate or break. And, understanding more about them would only help me in those endeavors, right?

Right. The Power of Habit examines habits and how they work through the lens of a startling array of topics, from marketing Febreeze to habitual gambling, from night terrors to Target’s consumer tracking algorithms, from brain damage to Starbucks’s training program, and from Alcoholic’s Anonymous to Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church. In addition to the numerous topics and case studies, the book also examines habits in three different areas: the habits of individuals, the habits of successful organizations, and the habits of societies.

In all, I found it to be a fascinating read. Charles Duhigg is a business reporter for The New York Times, but his writing reads more like a columnist’s or an essayist’s. And the information presented it just downright interesting. I mean, Target can identify pregnant women, who haven’t told anyone let alone Target, just by tracking what they buy. Several black individuals were arrested for refusing to give up their seats to white passengers in the weeks and months leading up to Rosa Parks’s arrest, but the reason her arrest was the catalyst for starting an entire movement can be explained, at least in part, by habits. Febreeze was unmarketable, until researchers noticed one small habit people have after cleaning a room.

Here are some of the things that I will take away from The Power of Habit:

  • Once we identify something as a habit, we have the power to change it.
  • Companies will do almost anything to get us to buy their stuff.
  • Keystone habits (such as making our beds, exercising, and having family dinners) seep over into other areas and change other habits.
  • Habits have three parts: a cue, a routine, and a reward.

I will say that it felt a little disjointed at times, in that some of the stories and case studies had a somewhat tenuous link to habits. And, I expected this to be a self-help book. I mean, a book about habits to going to tell you how to make or change your habits, right? Nope. Not this book. In fact, I got all of the way to the end of the book and then I read the appendix, which contains this helpful explanation:

Individuals and habits are all different, and so the specifics of diagnosing and changing the patterns in our lives differ from person to person and behavior to behavior. Giving up cigarettes is different from how you prioritize tasks at work. What’s more, each person’s habits are driven by different cravings.

As a result, this book doesn’t contain one prescription. Rather, I hoped to deliver something else: a framework for understanding how habits work and a guide to experimenting with how they might change. (220)

And with that simple statement, my experience with the whole book changed. I wish the note had come at the beginning, in an author’s note or introduction, because then I would have simply enjoyed the case studies instead of waiting and expecting the instruction to begin. So, that’s my advice. Read this book. But read it as a sociology book that presents information from which you can glean information to apply to your life, rather than as a self-help book that will give you a tidy little formula on changing your habits.

The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg [rating:4]

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