Book review: The Power of Habit

Book cover for The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

My best source for book recommendations are from those who I know well, whether they are family, friends, or close acquaintances. We talk about books enough that they have a good feel for the types of books that I might like. It’s also easy for me to figure out how to prioritize a book by how they describe it to me. It’s how I learned about The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. A couple of years ago, my daughter Courtney read it for one of her college classes and recommended it to me. She even went as far as to lend me her personal copy, which was an old school traditional hardback. Before we dive into this review, I only have one regret with this book – that I let it languish on my book shelf for the better part of two years before opening it up.

As I’ve mentioned in past book reviews, I have a fascination with the operation of the brain and neuroscience. I’m thoroughly convinced I would have become a neuroscientist if I hadn’t developed a fascination with technology, particularly computer science and programming. It’s the reason why I’ve enjoyed books such as Super Brain and Incognito. I find the brain both fascinating and amazing and feel like we’ve only scratched the surface in our understanding of it.

That’s probably why I enjoyed The Power of Habit so much. Whereas books like Super Brain look at how the brain works, The Power of Habit builds on how the brain works and applies it to why we do what we do. Not to give too much away, but Duhigg shows that we are driven by our habits. And if we want to change who we are, the key is to identify our habits and make a conscience effort to change them.

Duhigg breaks down habits into a simple cycle. First there is the cue that triggers the habit. It’s followed by the routine or activity we perform. After completing the activity, we are provided with a reward that reinforces and ingrains the habit. Duhigg illustrates this cycle through one of his habits, eating chocolate chip cookies. When he realized the habit led him to gaining 8 pounds, he used his research to change his habit to shed the weight.

In addition to how habits are formed and how they work, he shows how organizations such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Weight Watchers use the power of habit to get their members to stop drinking or lose weight. He shows how companies such as Alcoa, Target, and Starbucks have used the power of habit to turnaround, build, and grow successful businesses. He shows how coach Tony Dungy used the power of habit to turnaround his teams which led to winning the Super Bowl. He even shows how the power of habit has grown communities and transformed society by citing the building of the Saddleback Church and the Civil Rights movement as examples.

The Power of Habit is a great book, and a must read in my opinion. It’s not a deep research book like Super Brain. It’s not going to overwhelm you with science and technical jargon. It’s a practical application manual that shows you how to identify the habits that control you, for better or worse, how to take control of these habits, and how to change them. In other words, it shows you how to use the power of habit to your benefit, whether you’re looking to lose weight, stop smoking, improve yourself, build a business, or transform your community. It’s also great if you just want to understand how and why you do the things you do.

So thanks for the recommendation Courtney. I’ve made a mental note not to sit on your next recommendation for two years, although I’m not going to make any promises!