Book Review: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

9780385669757The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business 

by Charles Duhigg
ISBN 9780385669757
Doubleday Canada, 2012

We have habits. Some habits, like a morning jog, serve us well. Others, like a weekly visit to the casino that turns into a daily drain on the bank account, lead to our ruin. If we understand our habits—how they work, how they’re formed, how they serve us and how to change them—we can use that knowledge to shape our days in the most positive way.

In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg breaks down the three-step loop: Cue, Routine, Reward. A habit is triggered by an external cue (a particular location, a time of day, a certain mood, other people, or an activity), the external cue sets a routine in motion, and at the end, we receive a reward. For example, an alarm goes off at 6:00 a.m., a person puts on jogging clothes and goes for a run, and then enjoys the runner’s high and a strawberry smoothie. Or, at 3:00 p.m. every workday, a person, bored and restless, leaves the desk and visits the vending machine for an afternoon chocolate bar boost.

Many of our habits serve to sustain us as we navigate daily life. Putting on our clothes, making our toast, or driving our cars requires a series of habits. The first time we do any of these, we think through each step. Cued by a feeling of cold, a hunger, or a need to get from one place to another, we work through every step of managing buttons, setting the right toast preferences and backing out of the garage. Eventually these routines become automatic “habits,” so our brain doesn’t need to think about them anymore. In other words, we need habits or our brains would be overwhelmed. “Habits, scientists say, emerge because the brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort.”

Because habits are so necessary, and because our brains are constantly seeking to create new ones, habits have a powerful influence over our lives. And once a habit takes root, it doesn’t disappear. Duhigg writes: “. . . unless you deliberately fight a habit—unless you find new routines—the pattern will unfold automatically.”


You Can’t Extinguish a Bad Habit, You Can Only Change It”

Duhigg describes how habits, willpower and belief play out in the lives of brain-damaged individuals, gambling addicts, football players, Starbucks employees, and shoppers. 

What it means for us? We can examine our daily lives, identify our habits, figure out which ones serve us well and which ones could bear re-routing. To make a change, we start by figuring out what your habit “cue” is by asking these questions:

  1. Where are you?
  2. What time is it?
  3. What’s your emotional state?
  4. Who else is around?
  5. What action preceded the urge?

When you figure out what it is that sets you on an undesirable path, you can choose to respond to that cue differently, and you can choose how to reward yourself for doing so.

Find the cue, choose the positive action, select a meaningful reward.

At times I found myself wondering while reading Duhigg’s stories: “What does this have to do with habit again?” But even when I was wondering that, I was absorbed in the material. It’s darned interesting.

Since reading his book, I have been taking note of my cues, routines and rewards, and I’ve made some changes. I think that’s the point.


About Arlene Somerton Smith

Writer, laughing thinker, miner of inspirational insights, sports fan, and community volunteer

Posted on March 5, 2014, in Book reviews, Books I borrowed, Doubleday Canada, Non-fiction, Random House, Self-Help and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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