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The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business Paperback – January 7, 2014
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Q&A with 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.
“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
“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
- Lexile measure : 1150L
- Item Weight : 10.4 ounces
- ISBN-10 : 081298160X
- ISBN-13 : 978-0812981605
- Paperback : 416 pages
- Dimensions : 5.19 x 0.89 x 7.97 inches
- Publisher : Random House Trade Paperbacks (January 7, 2014)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #1,998 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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But what I wanted more than that were clear and concrete tactics or strategies to "hack" my habits...
Strategies and tactics that were groundbreaking, clear, repeatable, and effectively "life changing"...
Nope. Not so much.
I grade content quality by number of under-linings, margin notes, and folded pages I've set at the end of the read...
It scored extremely low in all of those categories. So it's not particular dense with usefulness.
A few other things I didn't like...
This book is 95% story, or anecdote. I'm not really into stories. I'd read a novel for a story. I read non-fiction to learn something useful- and prefer to do it quickly.
The stories themselves are delivered non-sequentially...
story A beginning
story B beginning
story C beginning
Story D beginning
To understand story A we need to story B. To understand story B we need story C. To understand story C we need story D.
Then story A's middle or ending
Then story B's middle or ending
Then story C's middle or ending
Then story D's middle or ending
It might be interesting to write this way, but it's an irritating read. Who wants their thought sequences disparate like this?
This distracting structure could have been redeemed if there were meaningful conclusions or anything actionable amidst the mire.
But there was not.
Overall, is it worth reading? Yes...if you have nothing else very interesting to read.
While the 1st part is circumscribed to the individual level of analysis, on parts 2 and 3 the author takes the analysis from the micro to organizations (meso-level) and societies (macro-level). The author describes “the power of weak ties” of social networks, and claims that it helps understand the rise of social movements —which it clearly does. But in his explanation, networks are rebranded as “the habit of peer pressure”. Networks —as well as peer pressure, or culture— can be powerful forces for change, undoubtedly. But networks are not habits —as per his own definition. Different phenomena are conflated into the concept of habits, and in doing so the concept loses elegance and consistency.
Intellectually, the book is revealing. On a personal level, it is incredibly useful —and I’m thankful to the author for writing it. I would have limited the book claims to the phenomena it can explain beyond any reasonable doubt. By taking the concept of habits beyond what it can solidly explain, parts 2 & 3 detract a bit of value and credibility from the book. Were it not for that, I would have given 5 stars to the book. In balance, this is still a great book that --with the caveat expressed-- I strongly recommend.
I've learned to exercise regularly, wake up early, and make healthier food choices. My habits and systems have improved my wellness, and if it worked for me, then it can definitely work for you.
I've also picked up a positive habit of reading at night before bed instead of mindlessly scrolling on my phone.
Top reviews from other countries
1. This book will not help you inculcate habits or help you in forming new habits
2. This book will not dramatically change your life (in case you were hoping so. If you wish to change your life dramatically, you’ll have to help your own self)
3. This book will not help you get rid of your bad habits.
Now that we’re clear with what this book doesn’t offer, let us look at what this book offers:
1. The book will tell you how habits work and how are they formed (the scientific approach). So it does not directly help you in forming new habits or getting rid of bad ones, but you can try applying the scientific approach described in the book and see if it helps you or not.
2. The book will help you understand the power of habits among individuals, organizations and societies through powerful and impactful examples
3. The book will describe various instances and stories around products, instances, and individuals etc, to emphasize on the importance of habits and how we can use habits to our advantage.
The book helps you understand why habits are at the very core of anything you do, how you can change them (scientific approach), and what impact that will have on your business, life and society.
The book is primarily divided into 3 parts
Part 1 – Habits of Individuals
Part 2 – Habits of Successful Organisations
Part 3 – Habits of Societies
The book is written by Pulitzer-prize winning author Charles Duhigg, and was first published in 2012. It is one of the bestseller in the ‘Self-help’ category. Duhigg wrote this book when he got fascinated by the intelligence of a US army major in Iraq, who controlled numerous riots by persuading the town’s mayor to keep food vendors away from gatherings. When people couldn’t satisfy their hunger with food, as they usually did (put of habit), they just left. Duhigg published this book after a lot of research, 8 years after this incident.
Now that you know what led to creation of this book, let’s look at the book summary:
1. Habits work in 3-step loops: cue, routine, reward. The cue is what triggers you to do the habit. The routine is the behavior you then automatically engage in. Lastly, you’ll receive a reward for completing the routine. Example: You get up every morning (Cue), make coffee (routine) and have a rich tasting coffee with a great aroma (reward).
2. You can change your habits by substituting just one part of the loop, the routine. The trick to changing a habit then, is to switch the routine, and leave everything else intact.
3. Your most important habit is willpower, and you can strengthen it over time in 3 ways. These three ways are:
- Do something that requires a lot of discipline. - For example a tough wake-up regimen or strict diet will make you constantly practice delaying gratification and thus give you more willpower
- Plan ahead for worst-case scenarios.
- Preserve your autonomy - When you’re assigned tasks by someone else, which you must do, your willpower muscle tires much quicker.
4. Keystone Habits are those habits which help you transform other habits. Figuring out these habits and working on them can create great transformation. Example – Getting up early can be a keystone habit that can have a positive impact on your other spheres of life such as having breakfast daily without skipping it, reaching work on time, having more time throughout the day for various tasks etc.
The author describes this with wonderful example of Alcoa’s transformation by Paul Neill.
5. Every small habit is like a small win. And a series small wins will help you form a routine/habit. Small wins are a steady application of a small advantage. Once a small win has been accomplished, forces are set in motion that favors another small win. Small wins fuel transformative changes by leveraging tiny advantages into patterns that convince people that bigger achievements are within reach.
The author describes this with the story Michael Phelps, the world renowned swimmer.
6. Transformation is always easier in groups, rather than alone or in isolation. Example – If you have a gym buddy, you’re more likely to hit the gym, than skip it.
7. Good leaders seize crises to remake organizational habits. In fact, crises are such valuable opportunities that a wise leader often prolongs a sense of emergency on purpose. The author describes this with transformation of a subway station after a major fire broke out killing many people.
8. People’s habits are more likely to change when they go through a major life event. To encourage people to practice new behavior, it needs to take advantage of patterns that already exists within them. Author uses example of the hypermarket chain Target, and how it uses customer’s demographics and spending habits to extract key inferences that help them sell relevant products to these consumers.
9. Social change and movement only happen with the existence of the weak link – the change as a whole within a group of people without a direct connection – and the strong link – the change of people around with close relationship (peer pressure). The author describes the movement in Montgomery against racial discrimination and how the movement gathered momentum.
10. Habits emerge within the brain and often, we don’t have the ability to control them, but we’re conscious and aware of them. With that said, it’s still our responsibility to cultivate our own habits and take charge of our own life.
The book is filled with multiple stories and instances that reiterate how important habits are and how we can use them to our advantage. I hope this was helpful! Thanks.
Favorite Quote from the book:
“The difference between who you are and who you want to be is what you do.” – Charles Duhigg
I’m a 20 y/o pretty normal male, living in England
And this book has completely changed my life.
I was a regular smoker of both tobacco and cannabis, and the routine change taught in this book, and the methods of distraction taught in this book has helped me so much. I just want to say Thanks to Charles for making such an enjoyable book, which has taught me a lot about habits.
10/10 would read again.
Quickly I found myself engrossed by the ideas explored in this book. Lots of examples and research is examined to look at how habits form and how they can be changed.
The book is split into three sections - individuals, organisations and society in general. I found the first two sections extremely engaging but thought that the society narrative was slightly less well defined and held my interest less.
Very cleverly, real people are used to prove theories and familiar companies are used as examples of habit changes.
I was surprised how interesting I found this book and have talked about it to various people whilst I was reading.
Habit is a book that is extremely useful. We start off with some obvious but solid reminders of how what we perceive as excellence is habit. It’s not about “grit” as some other books would say.
Simply setting a reminder to go to bed and putting your trainers next to your bed every night is a better way to get exercising than watching motivational videos on YouTube. Humans look for the way way out. Make things easy. Create a reward loop and you will develop a habit.
After a solid start the book falters and diverges quickly. Stories become way too drawn out and - I would argue - not relevant to the reason most people buy this book. We get a long chapter on how supermarkets are monitoring our shopping habits via reward cards and can tell if your are pregnant from your food grocery list.
We have a chapter that massively drags on how a cassino kept a gambler coming back but stimulating her habit and reminding her of the rewards (debt in this case).
Like many self help books, you want to throw it out the window at times. But it’s got a solid thesis. I now keep my trainers next to my bed and have created a habit I never thought feasible. Thus the book is worth it’s weight of gold. It’s just got a core of lead to go along with it.
This book is divided into three parts. Each part explains a different aspect of why habits exist and how they function.
The examples used in this book are so powerful and relevant that reader will feel a lot of wow moments. This is one of the books which we need to read again and again.