The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg is a book in the same genre of Nudge, Outliers, and How We Decide and others in the pop psychology type of book – except with a focus on daily habits and their role in our lives.
As with other books – the book formula is a bit predictable, but for me no less fascinating than all the other books that pull from the huge volume of psychological studies since the 70s…even though I didn’t actually finish the entire book. Here’s what I learned from the book and what I thought about it.
First off, the author did an amazing job at the beginning of the book to make the case for habits. The typical Western happiness cliche is that you shouldn’t live your life on autopilot. Conscious action is good, and passive non-thinking is bad.
The problem with that perspective is that you literally cannot live that way. Your conscious brain cannot process all the information and inputs coming in. You cannot make rational choices about everything in life.
The author gave a great example of this guy who due to a brain injury lost the ability to make habitual, emotional decisions. Everything the guy did was a thoughtful, rational choice. You’d think that that would be a good thing, right? More rational behavior = better choices, right? It turns out that the guy couldn’t do anything. He was forever paralyzed with inaction. He couldn’t process all the pros and cons without the set of intuitive heuristics that we use to filter decisions everyday.
That’s where habits come in – he makes the case that almost everything in our day to day life is habit driven. A cue happens, a routine takes place, and then a reward occurs – over and over and over.
The beauty about this perspective that it frees up the executive function of your brain (ie, the conscious “you”) to tweak, edit, and fix the habits of your life to align with your beliefs, goals, and identity. In other words, stop worrying and looking to take direct action to change your life, and start looking at the cues, routines, and rewards in your life, and how you can swap the routine for something better.
That’s the basic gist of the book – but where it gets especially interesting and useful is in the direct applications, how habits change, and how habits drive organizations as much as they drive individual behavior.
He talks about how marketers are able to create new habits; how organizations are able to completely reinvent themselves by changing keystone habits; and how individuals can create the best strategies for changing daily habits (tip: only focus on 1 at a time).
The only downside to the book was that much of the basic thesis is fairly simple and straightforward, and so it feels like an editor could have taken an axe to a good 30 pages or so – and the ending case studies were a bit of a rehash of case studies from other books in the genre.
Bottom line – this is a very worthwhile read if you have never read anything in the pop psychology genre, and an excellent – albeit choosy – read if you’ve already read a lot of books about behavior, psychology, etc.