Review of The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

Charles Duhigg

Why I Chose this Book

The Power of Habit is a relatively popular book and it’s one of those books I often saw displayed in bookstores. I think, one day I was searching through overdrive.com’s selection of audiobooks and saw this one. I already knew that it was popular and probably informative. I had learned a few things about habits before, but why not see what this book has to say?

The Power of Habit

Habits are behaviors that are established by repeated practice. Our habits shape who we are and define our actions and paths in life. Habits are so powerful that we may continue to practice them while being unaware. Fortunately, we have the ability to shape and choose our habits and we should do so wisely. Some habits are easier to form than others and so it is to change them.

We have many habits that we are unaware of such as our morning routines. We may think of them as something we choose to do but are unaware that our brains have been set to autopilot and this behavior is now automatic. Interestingly, the more ingrained habits become, the less energy our brains need to use to perform the behavior. This makes room for new information and new behaviors. Two key components of creating a habit are having a cue, something that triggers the start of the habit, and a reward, something that occurs after the task or because of the task that is pleasurable, which incentivizes our brains to repeat the task.

If we want to replace habits, it’s best to replace them using the same cues and rewards. One of the potential successes of Alcoholics Anonymous is that it teaches its attendees to identify the cues that trigger their drinking. Then, either they can avoid those cues, or they can use those cues to replace a habit of drinking with something else less destructive to their lives. Also, helpful for habit changing is being around others that support that change of habit as exhibited by Rosa Parks and the Montgomery bus boycott. Many may not realize that Rosa Parks wasn’t the first black person to resist sitting in the back of the bus. What was different about her though, was that she was well connected to many different members of her community. Therefore, her actions had a much wider influence than those who had done the same before her. This reminds me of the book, Norms in the Wild: How to Diagnose, Measure, and Change Social Norms by Cristina Bicchieri, that I’ve yet to finish reading.

The unconscious nature of habit-forming and everyday behavior tangentially brings up the question of the existence of free will. Many people, especially religious leaders and philosophers, have ruminated over this question. We may never know if we do or do not possess this attribute, but it does appear that the more we learn about the brain, the more we realize how much of our behaviors are shaped by processes just beneath our consciousness.

Conclusion

Duhigg discusses other important aspects of habits such as identifying important habits, the snowball effect of small wins, the importance of willpower, sandwiching new habits between existing ones, and how good leaders seize opportunities to establish new habits among followers. I thought that the use of alcoholics anonymous as an example of habit modification seems risky because admittedly, its success rate is unknown. Duhigg’s narrative style is effective in both informing and entertaining the reader. In contrast to reading a list of bullet points, the storytelling is more likely to leave a lasting impression. Overall, this was a book worth reading.

Narration

This book was narrated by Mike Chamberlain. He did a good job.

 

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