Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The Power of Habit (2012) by Charles Duhigg, Book Review

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business (2012)
by Charles Duhigg

This book will take readers to the thrilling edge of scientific discoveries that explain why habits exist and how they can be changed. If you're interested in this subject, you'll never be disappointed. You need to understand habit because as William James, philosopher and psychologist, once said, “99% of human activity is done out of mere habit.”

The reason it’s such a good book, in my opinion, is because it uses research to explain how habits are formed and changed and the way the author arrange his materials into an interesting and fun reading. Everyone knows someone who was out of shape, or was a smoker, or a hard drinker, and then in what appeared as if almost overnight, changed themselves in a short period of time. How did they do that? They formed new habits and changed old ones, that’s how! Do something enough and it becomes a habit - good or bad. This is explained in the book by research on memory loss. For example, the research found that patients suffering from memory loss could not show someone where the kitchen is when asked, but once they got hungry they would get up and go to the kitchen automatically. This is made possible by the Habit Loop of Cue, Routine, and Reward. The Cue (hungry) makes the brain find the Routine (go to the kitchen) as it anticipates the Reward (food - eat - full). A classic example is a stress and smoking. The cue is stress, the routine is smoking, the reward is the feeling the cigarette brings.

What's most interesting is how the book described changing a habit. Let’s face it, we all have habits we want to change. To accomplish this we need to keep the cue and reward, but only change the routine. I’ll use an example from my own life to illustrate. I used to be a smoker, and to make it worse I smoke whenever I feel boring. My instant respond whenever I have nothing to do was to smoke (or drink alcohol) because that was how I formed the habit during my teenage years. Back then I used a similar guidance from this book to change that habit. I kept the cue and reward, but I changed the routine by reading books instead of smoking cigarettes. Now I'm an avid reader and an ex-smoker. This logic flows into much larger problem sets such as organizations and communities. Focus on changing one thing - the keystone habit from which a cascade of other habits will form. The author illustrates this example by discussing how the company Alcoa was transformed by the keystone habit of a singular focus on safety (and other examples too).

The book flows really well and uses research throughout to substantiate the concepts presented. Jim Collin puts it this way, "Charles Duhigg's thesis is powerful in its elegant simplicity: confront the root drivers of our behavior, accept them as intractable, and then channel those same cravings into productive patterns. His core insight is sharp, provocative and useful." Couldn't agree more!
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