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The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business Hardcover – February 28, 2012
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A Q&A with Author Charles Duhigg
What sparked your interest in habits?
I first became interested in the science of habits eight years ago, as a newspaper reporter in Baghdad, when I heard about an army major conducting an experiment in a small town named Kufa.
The major had analyzed videotapes of riots and had found that violence was often preceded by a crowd of Iraqis gathering in a plaza and, over the course of hours, growing in size. Food vendors would show up, as well as spectators. Then, someone would throw a rock or a bottle.
When the major met with Kufa’s mayor, he made an odd request: Could they keep food vendors out of the plazas? Sure, the mayor said. A few weeks later, a small crowd gathered near the Great Mosque of Kufa. It grew in size. Some people started chanting angry slogans. At dusk, the crowd started getting restless and hungry. People looked for the kebab sellers normally filling the plaza, but there were none to be found. The spectators left. The chanters became dispirited. By 8 p.m., everyone was gone.
I asked the major how he had figured out that removing food vendors would change peoples' behavior.
The U.S. military, he told me, is one of the biggest habit-formation experiments in history. “Understanding habits is the most important thing I’ve learned in the army,” he said. By the time I got back to the U.S., I was hooked on the topic.
How have your own habits changed as a result of writing this book?
Since starting work on this book, I've lost about 30 pounds, I run every other morning (I'm training for the NY Marathon later this year), and I'm much more productive. And the reason why is because I've learned to diagnose my habits, and how to change them.
Take, for instance, a bad habit I had of eating a cookie every afternoon. By learning how to analyze my habit, I figured out that the reason I walked to the cafeteria each day wasn't because I was craving a chocolate chip cookie. It was because I was craving socialization, the company of talking to my colleagues while munching. That was the habit's real reward. And the cue for my behavior - the trigger that caused me to automatically stand up and wander to the cafeteria, was a certain time of day.
So, I reconstructed the habit: now, at about 3:30 each day, I absentmindedly stand up from my desk, look around for someone to talk with, and then gossip for about 10 minutes. I don't even think about it at this point. It's automatic. It's a habit. I haven't had a cookie in six months.
What was the most surprising use of habits that you uncovered?
The most surprising thing I've learned is how companies use the science of habit formation to study - and influence - what we buy.
Take, for example, Target, the giant retailer. Target collects all kinds of data on every shopper it can, including whether you’re married and have kids, which part of town you live in, how much money you earn, if you've moved recently, the websites you visit. And with that information, it tries to diagnose each consumer’s unique, individual habits.
Why? Because Target knows that there are these certain moments when our habits become flexible. When we buy a new house, for instance, or get married or have a baby, our shopping habits are in flux. A well-timed coupon or advertisement can convince us to buy in a whole new way. But figuring out when someone is buying a house or getting married or having a baby is tough. And if you send the advertisement after the wedding or the baby arrives, it’s usually too late.
So Target studies our habits to see if they can predict major life events. And the company is very, very successful. Oftentimes, they know what is going on in someone's life better than that person's parents.
“Sharp, provocative, and useful.”—Jim Collins
“Few [books] become essential manuals for business and living. The Power of Habit is an exception. Charles Duhigg not only explains how habits are formed but how to kick bad ones and hang on to the good.”—Financial Times
“A flat-out great read.”—David Allen, bestselling author of Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity
“You’ll never look at yourself, your organization, or your world quite the same way.”—Daniel H. Pink, bestselling author of Drive and A Whole New Mind
“Entertaining . . . enjoyable . . . fascinating . . . a serious look at the science of habit formation and change.”—The New York Times Book Review
“Cue: see cover. Routine: read book. Reward: fully comprehend the art of manipulation.”—Bloomberg Businessweek
“A fresh examination of how routine behaviors take hold and whether they are susceptible to change . . . The stories that Duhigg has knitted together are all fascinating in their own right, but take on an added dimension when wedded to his examination of habits.”— Associated Press
“There’s been a lot of research over the past several years about how our habits shape us, and this work is beautifully described in the new book The Power of Habit.”—David Brooks, The New York Times
“A first-rate book—based on an impressive mass of research, written in a lively style and providing just the right balance of intellectual seriousness with practical advice on how to break our bad habits.”—The Economist
“I have been spinning like a top since reading The Power of Habit, New York Times journalist Charles Duhigg’s fascinating best-seller about how people, businesses and organizations develop the positive routines that make them productive—and happy.”—The Washington Post
“An absolutely fascinating . . . book [that explores] a startling and sometimes dismaying collision between the increasingly sophisticated scientific understanding of habits—how they’re formed, how they can be disrupted and changed—and, among other things, companies’ efforts to use that knowledge to steer your habits and money their way.”—Wired
“If Duhigg is right about the nature of habits, which I think he is, then trying to get rid of these bad habits won’t work. Instead, what is needed is to teach the managers to identify the cues that lead to these bad habits and rewards, and then learn alternative routines that lead to similar rewards, i.e. business and personal success.”—Forbes
“The Power of Habit is chock-full of fascinating anecdotes . . . how an early twentieth century adman turned Pepsodent into the first bestselling toothpaste by creating the habit of brushing daily, how a team of marketing mavens at Procter & Gamble rescued Febreze from the scrapheap of failed products by recognizing that a fresh smell was a fine reward for a cleaning task, how Michael Phelps’ coach instilled habits that made him an Olympic champion many times over, and how Tony Dungy turned the Indianapolis Colts into a Super Bowl–winning team.”—Los Angeles Times
“Duhigg clearly knows that people do not like, or even buy, the idea that we’re not creatures of choice. He carefully explains each step of habit building, using science and—the best part—a slew of interesting anecdotes.”—The Seattle Times
“Duhigg argues that much of our lives is ruled by unconscious habits, good and bad, but that by becoming consciously aware of the cues that trigger our habits and the rewards they provide, we can change bad practices into good ones.”—Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“Duhigg’s revelation that Target had developed a model to predict whether female customers were pregnant ignited a firestorm after an excerpt from his book, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, was published.”—USA Today
More About the Author
I've worked at the Times since 2006. Last year, I was part of a team that won the Pulitzer Prize for a series about Apple named "The iEconomy," and before that, I contributed to other series, including "Golden Opportunities" (which received the George Polk Award, the Sidney Hillman Award and a Deadline Award), "The Reckoning," (which won the Loeb and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize), and "Toxic Waters," (which received The Scripps Howard National Journalism Award, the Investigative Reporters and Editors' Medal, the National Academies' reporting award and others.)
I'm a native of New Mexico and I studied history at Yale and received an MBA from Harvard Business School. Before becoming a journalist, I worked in private equity and - for one terrifying day - was a bike messenger in San Francisco. I have appeared on This American Life, The Colbert Report, N.P.R., The Newshour with Jim Lehrer, and Frontline.
If you would like to contact me, I would love to hear from you. I'm at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Top Customer Reviews
As you can see from the TOC below, Duhigg really goes after a broad range of topics. He looks at the habits of individuals, how habits operate in the brain, how companies use them, and how retailers use habits to manipulate buying habits. This provides some fascinating research and stories, such as the fact that grocery stores put fruits and vegetables at the front of the store because people who put these healthy items in their carts are more apt to buy junk food as well before they leave the store. The author's main contention is that "you have the freedom and responsibility" to remake your habits. He says "the most addicted alcoholics can become sober. The most dysfunctional companies can transform themselves. A high school dropout can become a successful manager." He makes a convincing case for all this. The only problem is that's all he does. He doesn't show you how to do it.
PART ONE: THE HABITS OF INDIVIDUALS
1. The Habit Loop - How Habits Work
2. The Craving Brain - How to Create New Habits
3. The Golden Rule of Habit Change - Why Transformation Occurs
PART TWO - THE HABITS OF SUCCESSFUL ORGANIZATIONS
4. Keystone Habits, or The Ballad of Paul O'Neill - Which Habits Matter Most
5. Starbucks and the Habit of Success - When Willpower Becomes Automatic
6. The Power of a Crisis - How Leaders Create Habits Through Accident and Design
7.Read more ›
The first three chapters are my favorite, and really make up the heart of the book.
Chapter 1, "The Habit Loop" explains exactly what a habit is. Some estimate, according to the author, that habits make up 40% of our daily routine. Favorite quote from this chapter: "This process within our brains is a three-step loop. First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which behavior to use. The there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is the reward . . ." (19)
Chapter 2, "The Craving Brain" includes the story of Pepsodent and lays out a simple formula for creating new habits in others. "First, find a simple and obvious cue. Second, clearly define the reward." (37) The rest of the chapter will fill you in on the missing part of this formula and you will learn how Febreze went from near bust to a product bringing in over a billion dollars a year.
Chapter 3, "The Golden Rule of Habit Change" is my favorite chapter. In this chapter you will learn what part of the habit loop to modify and how you should go about doing it. You will also learn how Tony Dungee reinvented the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Indianapolis Colts by instilling habits into his teams. Very good information, if you read one chapter in this book, make sure it is this one. Of interest to everyone, from smokers to businessmen to nail-biters to football coaches.
The remaining two sections of the book were not quite as strong as the first.Read more ›
If the book is intended as an advertisement for Febreze, it's fairly effective. I found myself actually wanting to buy a bottle, but then realized I was probably being manipulated. (Years ago, I read the label on a Febreze bottle. It said make sure the fabric you're spraying is clean first. If my couch was clean, I wouldn't be spraying it with something to remove odors! Give me a break.)
And woven throughout the book, you have to suffer through the author's admonitions about the habits that *he* thinks *you* ought to practice: the usual boring, politically correct, cultural-narrative-approved, scientifically unproven advice like eat more vegetables, cut down on fat consumption, and wear sunscreen just to go outside. What a hack. I see why he's won some "journalism" awards -- he pushes the cultural narrative of the news media.
It made me realize that one habit I could try to break is buying books on Amazon based on other people's reviews.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
FANTASTIC book. Easy to read and understand. Clear examples and fun to hear stories. Very well-written. I had trouble putting it down. Read morePublished 1 day ago by Amazon Customer
Great read; explains a lot about how most everything we do (about 60%) is habit. Excellent way to improve your life by improving or changing your habits.Published 2 days ago by Jim Perry
One of the best books I've read in years in terms of understanding one of the most interesting and useful of human traits (or quirks): Habits. Read morePublished 2 days ago by Horacio Montes
Looking forward to my third time. Terrific insight and storytelling. It has provided a lot of material for me to think about on my own life, business and the services I provide.Published 2 days ago by Morgan
Has anyone actually read this book? It's a collection of loosely-assorted, superficial anecdotes about successful businesses, and contains little to no actual examination of habit.Published 3 days ago by Henry P. Blanton
An amazing book that will help you change your life. It changed my life!Published 3 days ago by Mauricio I
This is a wonderful book. Listened to it on Audible, twice, and also bought the kindle version to reinforce the information. As a therapist and coach, it's priceless. Read morePublished 3 days ago by Jane Massengill