The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

January 14, 2014

power of habit Summary (from the publisher): In The Power of Habit, award-winning New York Times business reporter Charles Duhigg takes us to the thrilling edge of scientific discoveries that explain why habits exist and how they can be changed. With penetrating intelligence and an ability to distill vast amounts of information into engrossing narratives, Duhigg brings to life a whole new understanding of human nature and its potential for transformation.

Along the way we learn why some people and companies struggle to change, despite years of trying, while others seem to remake themselves overnight. We visit laboratories where neuroscientists explore how habits work and where, exactly, they reside in our brains. We discover how the right habits were crucial to the success of Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, and civil-rights hero Martin Luther King, Jr. We go inside Procter & Gamble, Target superstores, Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church, NFL locker rooms, and the nation’s largest hospitals and see how implementing so-called keystone habits can earn billions and mean the difference between failure and success, life and death.

At its core, The Power of Habit contains an exhilarating argument: The key to exercising regularly, losing weight, raising exceptional children, becoming more productive, building revolutionary companies and social movements, and achieving success is understanding how habits work.

Habits aren’t destiny. As Charles Duhigg shows, by harnessing this new science, we can transform our businesses, our communities, and our lives.

Reaction:

Like most people, I am plagued by a number of bad habits that I would like to change. And, also like most people, I find it a real challenge to break my bad habits for good. Therefore, I hoped this book would provide me with a roadmap to help me make real progress. Unfortunately, the results were kind of mixed.

While Duhigg does a good job of giving me specific terms to use when describing my “habit loops” (cue/trigger, habit/routine, reward), he doesn’t offer much in the way of specific tips for breaking the loops. Instead, he sticks to generalities (“find different rewards” or “ask yourself what’s behind the trigger”) and excuses himself from providing specifics with the lame explanation that everyone is different and responds differently to various approaches. Well, gee…thanks for that insight.

Most of the pages are devoted to case studies where Duhigg tries to show how individuals and corporations have successfully changed bad habits. While I found most of the examples interesting (though way too drawn out) I frequently found myself questioning Duhigg’s application of the term “habit.” Not every cause-effect sequence can be said to be a habit, and I’m sure he committed the post hoc ergo propter hoc (after this therefore because of this) logical fallacy on several occasions in the book. These distractions accumulated as the work went on, so by the end I was just kind of glad it was over.

On the whole, I do believe I understand more about habits now than I did before reading the book, so I guess that’s a victory for the author. But am I going to be able to apply this new knowledge in a practical way to improve my life? I guess that remains to be seen.

Rating:

While The Power of Habit does contain some interesting information that is presented in a mostly readable way, there are several slow spots throughout. As well, some of Duhigg’s arguments and conclusions are based on questionable logic. Still, I found the book to be a worthwhile read and give it 3 stars out of 5.

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