In The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, Charles Duhigg explores what makes a habit – good ones, bad ones, petty little ones we can’t seem to manage to change – and how we humans, as creatures of habit, can examine our smallest actions and why we do what we do. According to Duhigg’s research, our daily habits may seem isolated and small, but making a small change to a daily habit may lead us to life-changing new patterns.
Duhigg analyzes the elements common to any habit, from nail biting to snacking to gambling, and finds the common thread: each “habit loop” begins with a cue, an event that triggers the habit to begin. Once the habit loop is activated, you experience a craving, and then carry out the routine of the habit itself, which results in a reward. Thinking about a habit in this framework allows you to isolate each aspect of the habit, helping you to figure out why you always need a snack at 3:00 or why you can’t stop checking Facebook. After establishing the habit loop pattern and some techniques to change it, Duhigg then looks at the habits of people in groups, at work or in social situations, and examines how these habit theories can be applied to effect change on a larger scale.
The Power of Habit is, from a readability perspective, nearly perfect. Duhigg uses compelling stories to make his points and weaves together multiple narratives to keep the reader engaged. He pulls together many different threads from his exhaustive research and hours of interviews, looking at the question of habits from every angle: neurology, addiction, education, corporate culture, and social change, to name a few. As a result, there’s something here to interest everyone, and because he distills each topic down to the individual level – one person who conquered her addiction, one CEO who changed a company – the reader can stay focused on the story and the prose never gets too dry. Duhigg’s own authorial presence is very light, telling each person’s tale matter-of-factly, without bias, and only rarely interjecting himself. Duhigg comes across as an expert, and as a reader, I trust his expertise and want to learn more.
For this blog in particular, I found this book fascinating because of the way Duhigg’s research fits in with my recent posts on identity-based goals. According to Duhigg, the reason people often fail at achieving their goals is because they’ve failed to change a key habit. By changing the cue-routine-reward habit loop and changing just one habit, people can make much bigger changes and achieve larger goals. This fits in really well with the idea of identity-based goals, which encourages people to not only set a goal but to (1) change the way they think about themselves, and (2) make small progress every day in becoming the sort of person who can achieve what they want to achieve. According to Duhigg, those little successes are key to reprogramming our brains with new habits that will drive us towards the goals we seek.
For myself personally, this book gave me new ways of looking at my own habits: on the negative side, I’d like to change my nail-picking and Facebook habits, and on the positive side, I’d like to strengthen and deepen my yoga practice. I now have some ideas about how I can transform these habits: for example, improving my 5:45am yoga practice to deliver a stronger reward, therefore increasing my motivation to get out of bed early. (More specifics on that plan coming in Thursday’s post!) Overall, I strongly recommend Duhigg’s book. Whether you have bad habits you’d like to change, good habits you’d like to strengthen, or people in your life whose habits drive you nuts, this book will be a fascinating read.