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The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do, and How to Change Paperback – International Edition, February 7, 2013

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Q&A with Charles Duhigg

Charles Duhigg

Q. What sparked your interest in habits?

A. 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.

Q. How have your own habits changed as a result of writing this book?

A. 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.

Q. What was the most surprising use of habits that you uncovered?

A. 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.

--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Review

"In this fascinating book, Charles Duhigg reveals the myriad ways in which our habits shape our lives. Do you want to know why Febreze became a bestselling product? Or how the science of habits can be used to improve willpower? Read this book." -- Jonah Lehrer "Once you read this book, you'll never look at yourself, your organisation, or your world quite the same way." -- Daniel H. Pink "Absolutely fascinating." Wired "This is 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 "Plenty of business books that try to tap into the scientific world manage to distil complicated research into readable prose. But few take the next step and become essential manuals for business and living. The Power of Habit is an exception." -- Andrew Hill Financial Times
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Books (February 7, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1847946240
  • ISBN-13: 978-1847946249
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 1 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2,892 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #641,423 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

My name is Charles Duhigg, and I'm a reporter for The New York Times. I'm also the author of The Power of Habit, about the science of habit formation in our lives, companies and societies.

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 charles@charlesduhigg.com

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

685 of 745 people found the following review helpful By Ethan Jones on March 19, 2012
Format: Hardcover
In this wonderful book, Charles Duhigg, an investigative reporter for The New York Times, tackles an important reality head on. That is, people succeed when they identify patterns that shape their lives--and learn how to change them. This idea--that you can indeed change your habits--draws on recent research in experimental psychology, neurology, and applied psychology.

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.
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522 of 584 people found the following review helpful By Bradley Bevers TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 28, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is a great book about the power of habit and what we can do to change our habits in business, life, and society. The book is divided into three sections, first focusing on the individual, then companies, and finally societies.

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.
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1,988 of 2,368 people found the following review helpful By J. McGuire on May 4, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The first two chapters weren't bad. They made me think that the succeeding chapters would be even more interesting. They weren't. The book fell off a cliff at that point. Chapters on companies that turned around -- I thought I was watching CNBC. The science, which is what I was interested in, apparently is only enough to fill one or two chapters. Then the author manufactured a bunch of filler to make it book-length, most of which only seemed to relate to the topic marginally. And if you're looking for a self-help book to help you break bad habits, go somewhere else. The advice is: find out what reward you get out of the habit, then do something else to get that same reward. There, you don't have to read the book.

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.
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