Book Review: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg (2013)

The Power of Habit: Duhigg, C. (2013). London: Random House Books.

…to change an old habit, you must address an old craving. You have to keep the same cues and rewards as before, and feed the craving by inserting a new routine.

Habit is linked with chunking – “the process in which the brain converts a sequence of actions into an automatic routine”. Habits are formed within the realm of control of the individual, organisation or society that such habits emanate from. To highlight the importance of control on habits, two case studies of – a serial gambler and a murder case – were used to establish how bad habits can be voluntarily controlled if there is enough willpower from the perpetrators. Also, highlighted is the importance of grit in maintaining or deciding to change habits. Hence, to effectively understand how habits are formed and maintained, the author tells us about the habit loop and goes into details in explaining how it works.

This is how new habits are created: by putting together a cue, a routine, and a reward, and then cultivating a craving that drives the loop.

The book is divided into three parts, with each part focussing on the habits of: individuals, successful organisations and society, respectively. The author makes use of a lot of case studies in establishing how habits inform and shape how humans make decisions at personal, organisational or societal levels. Most of the anecdotes referenced in the book were events that happened in the US or have to do with businesses that originated from the US.

…we do know that for habits to permanently change, people must believe that change is feasible.

The book relates habits formation with cognition and links it with brain science in establishing how different parts of the brain can make or mar the formation of habits in an individual – this aspect of the book emphasises the role of human psychology in developing habits by looking into neuroscience. At the organisational level, the book establishes how influential individuals like CEOs help in the drive for change in the culture of their respective organisations by targeting the development of certain habits in their staff. Such habits were targeted according to the author because they carry at their hearts the core values or goals of those organisations. At societal level, habits are developed based on two key factors – the social habits of friendship and the power of weak ties. These factors are established with anecdotes, and history of the iconic civil rights movement – the Rosa Parks story – in the history of the US, to highlight how habits formation can change a society or the world at large.

The water is habits, the unthinking choices and invincible decisions that surround us every day – and which, just by looking at them, become visible again.

The book is well paced and a pleasure to read. It was easy to get into the book again after leaving it for a while to attend to other activities. Although, I found part of the section on ‘The Habits of Successful Organisations” repetitive and unnecessary at times; some of the case studies used were addressing the same issues but in different contexts. The book offers suggestions on how one can develop new habits and dispense unproductive or negative old habits.

All quotes are from The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg (2013).

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