Book Review: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

“just as a piece of land has to be prepared beforehand if it is to nourish the seed, so the mind of the pupil has to be prepared in its habits if it is to enjoy and dislike the right things.” -Aristotle (270)


Duhigg discusses how habits are created and how to replace bad ones. Every habit is initiated by a cue and executed by a routine because humans crave its reward. “Unless you deliberately fight a habit–unless you find new routines–the pattern will unfold automatically.” (20) Humans use habits to allow their brains to work less and channel energy to triumph more complex tasks. If you want to change a habit, identify the cue, routine, and reward and then decide on a new routine. For instance, if you eat a cookie everyday at 3:30PM, is it because you’re bored or tired? If you’re bored change your routine and go talk to a colleague for a few minutes. If you’re tired, eat an apple. The new routines will give you the same reward. The trick to habits is remembering the golden rule: Trust your new habits. Don’t think.

Habits of Successful Organizations:

  • Understand keystone habits.
  • Focus on them.
  • Ruthlessly prioritize.

“The best agencies understood the importance of routines. The worst agencies were headed by people who never thought about it, and then wondered why no one followed their orders.” (104)

Great organizations focus on understanding keystone habits or high levers and ruthlessly prioritize everything that is unimportant. “[Keystone habits] help other habits flourish by creating new structures and they establish cultures where change becomes contagious.” (109)


Small Wins

“Small wins fuel transformative changes by leveraging tiny advantages into patterns that convince people that bigger achievements are within reach.” (112) For Example, “making your bed every morning is correlated with better productivity, a great sense of well-being, and stronger skills at sticking with a budget.” (109) Don’t be fooled — small wins are only considered small wins.

Influencing others

“Dress a new something in old habits, it’s easier for the public to accept it.” (210)

Social Habits:

Duhigg explains why Rosa Parks was the catalyst to the civil rights when several similar cases had occurred in Montgomery, Alabama around the same time. He explains, “A movement starts because of the social habits of friendship and the strong ties between close acquaintances. It grows because of the habits of a community, and the weak ties that hold neighborhoods and clans together. And it endures because a movement’s leaders give participants new habits that create a fresh sense of identity and a feeling of ownership. (217) Rosa Parks was deeply respected and embedded in her community… and had “strong ties” with dozens of groups unlike the other people who were arrested. (220)


Duhigg concludes his masterpiece by posing heart-wrenching ethical questions:

Should someone who commits murder in their sleep from habit spend the rest of their life in jail? Should someone addicted to gambling, subsequently targeted by casinos, seduced to gamble be responsible for the debts incurred? (259)

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