The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg is one of the most important books of our times. The book not only blows your mind with groundbreaking research but also opens doors to new possibilities. If I had this book in my hands in college, my life would’ve been way different than what it is today. Not that I regret anything in life, but simply because I could’ve reached where I am much faster.
The Power of Habit tries to find and present answers to such deeper questions. The book deals with some of the most intrinsic aspects of human behaviour, giving lucid and interesting explanations. With more than two million copies sold, Charles Duhigg’s masterpiece is practically changing lives across the globe. Let’s find out why.
Summary of The Power of Habit
Duhigg starts The Power of Habit with the story of Lisa Allen. Lisa was a girl who started drinking and smoking early and was deep into debt. However, something happened to her that transformed her completely. The woman was smoking, binge-eating, drinking, pounding on her ex-husband’s door, and threatening to kill his girlfriend.
After four months of emotional turmoil, Lisa Allen was set on a journey to the Pyramids of Giza. While on her trip, the troubled woman decided to change one habit – quit smoking. Life was never the same again for her. That’s what the author discusses first, a “keystone habit” that helps reprogram the general routines of one’s life.
The Power Habit is divided into three parts, each addressing the habits of a unique set of people. Duhigg builds up the book brick by brick, connecting one aspect to the other. Thus, The Power of Habit is a finely tailored suit that fits beautifully for every reader out there. To analyze the book, we must summarise each part, for every chapter in the book is a lesson in life.
Part One: The Habits of Individuals
The first part of The Power of Habit deals with the role habits plays in the lives of individuals. The author gives a great insight into the habits of multiple individuals, interviewing some of the biggest experts in the field. This is further divided into three sections, which Duhigg uses to discuss how habits are formed in individuals and how they affect their lives.
The first concept Duhigg discusses is the ‘Habit Loop.’ In simple terms, the concept refers to a cycle at the end of which a person commits a certain act as a habit. The habit loop is based on three elements – cue, routine, and reward. The cue is something that triggers a person to commit a certain act, a routine, that results in a certain reward for that person.
The Craving Brain
‘The Craving Brain’ is the second concept Dugigg discusses in the first part. According to research presented by the author, every habit of an individual stems from a craving that triggers as soon as the person comes across the cue. Duhigg argues that cravings play a vital role in developing new habits, as the habit loop itself relies heavily on the craving.
The Golden Rule
The third concept Duhigg discusses in the first part is ‘The Golden Rule’ – bad habits don’t extinguish but can be changed. Duhigg argues that bad habits can be altered using the same clue and reward. The author uses the example of legendary American football coach Tony Dungy to demonstrate a small change in the routine in the habit loop can help convert a bad habit into a beneficial one, yielding tremendous results on the field and in life.
Part Two: The Habits of Successful Organizations
The second part of The Power of Habit deals with organizational habits in great detail. The book brings forward ground-breaking research that shows how corporations instil new habits in their employees. Duhigg also shows how corporations manipulate the habits of their customers and use them to maximize revenue and become successful.
In the first section, Duhigg speaks about ‘Keystone Habits’ that drive organizational growth and success. A keystone habit is something that can create transitional change in the life of an organization by triggering a series of changes. Duhigg cites the example of how Paul O’Neil’s quest to aim for zero injuries helped Alcoa become an exemplar of excellence. Following his arrival for the top job at Alcoa, O’Neil’s primary objective was to ensure that the company adopted the best safety measure, which triggered radical changes essential for growth.
Habit of Success
‘Habit of Success’ is the second section, presenting the most interesting insights in the book. Using the example of how Starbucks instituted unparalleled customer service, Duhigg shows how developing habits for tackling pressure situations can bring organizational success. When a customer starts yelling, a young barista could easily panic. But if the barista develops a habit of responding to angry customers, handling the situation can become a cakewalk. It’s all about a thousand pressure situations and a habit to tackle each of them that alleviates the game for a successful organization.
Power of Crisis
The third section talks about ‘The Power of Crisis.’ Duhigg presents the argument that every crisis has the potential to bring about revolutionary changes as it pushes for changes in habits. The example of the Rhode Island Hospital debacle shows how a lack of appropriate habits can make an organization dysfunctional and prone to errors. And with every example, the author shows how the crisis helped the management come up with radical changes that helped cope with the tragedies and thrive in them.
How Companies Know What You Want
The final section of the second part discusses ‘How Companies Know What You Want.’ Duhigg presents an intriguing study revolving around the behavioural patterns of buyers at supermarkets. Target, one of the largest departmental store chains in the United States, used computational data analytics to scrutinize people’s life. The company collected terabytes of customer data every year via emails, credit cards, redeemable coupons, etc., which it then analyzed to identify the need of their customer.
Part Three: The Habits of Societies
Human beings live in communion and develop habits on a societal scale. Therefore, the book details societal habits that initiated change on a mass level. Duhigg presents interesting case studies that help the reader learn the smaller details of landmark historical moments. Further, the book discusses how habits are formed and how we can control them.
How Movements Happen
In the third part of The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg presents an in-depth review of one of the greatest social movements in American history – the Civil Rights Movement. The author gives the incident of Rosa Parks being arrested and the start of the Montgomery bus boycott. While the Civil Rights Movement may have no connection to the book’s central theme, Duhigg analyzes a society’s habits and why it reacts to certain things the way it does. The first section also sheds light on how our actions and habits are driven by peer pressure and societal expectations.
Are We Responsible for Our Habits?
Charles Duhigg’s most fascinating analysis in The Power of Habit comes in this section, where the author dissects habits frowned upon by society. One of the societal evils Duhigg presents is the habit of gambling and how families get destroyed by it. The book highlights the role of the social environment that compels addicts to acquire evil habits unconsciously. Likewise, the book also discusses uncontrollable habits triggered by certain cues, which doesn’t make them responsible irrespective of the outcome.
How to Use The Power of Habit?
The best thing about Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit is that it also gives the readers a practical outline at the end to use the lessons presented. Duhigg prescribes a four-step procedure to utilize the book, which is as follows:
Step 1: Identify the Routine
Citing the research presented in the first part, Duhigg states that understanding the habit loop is the first step for changing your bad habits. Identify the cue-routine-reward pattern, which would later help you replace your bad habits with new ones. The author argues that identifying routines vis-a-vis the habit loop is the key to changing behaviour.
Step 2: Experiment with Rewards
The second step Duhigg recommends is two experiments with the reward that you receive at the end of the habit loop. A great part of the book proves that rewards play the ultimate role in satisfying cravings. Duhigg presents various combinations that readers can replicate to alter their routines, and each one of them is practical for almost everyone. Experimenting with the routine will lead to identifying the actual reward you are seeking.
Step 3: Isolate the Cue
After identifying routines and rewards, you need to identify the cues that trigger the habits. Duhigg cites credible experiments which classify habitual cues into five categories – location, time, emotional state, other people, and immediately preceding action. Building on these experiments, the book mentions a few activities that help you track down the habit cues.
Step 4: Have a Plan
The final stage in the procedure is to have a plan to adjust the routines, rewards, and cues you have identified. Duhigg calls these plans “implementation intentions,” which would allow the readers to re-engineer the cue-routine-reward formula for every habit they which to replace. The book also mentions a couple of useful examples that will help build plans and simple techniques to execute them.
Final Thoughts on The Power of Habit
The Power of Habit is probably the best book one can read if they’re serious about taking charge of their life. The best thing about the book is that it’s simple, not in concept but in presentation. The case studies, the derivations, and the concepts are easy to comprehend for readers of all ages. I strongly recommend The Power of Habit to all those fascinated by the human psyche.
The only shortcoming that I felt the book held was that for its detailed explanation of habits at different levels, it has a surprisingly short space for execution. Though I think the Reader’s Guide to Using These Ideas is quite effective, it should have been a tad more detailed or elaborative.
Language and Readability
Another great thing about The Power of Habit is its language and readability, which makes the book a pleasing work of literature. Charles Duhigg’s literary prowess and analytical skills as a journalist combine to offer not only great insights into the psychology of habits but also a literary treat. Duhigg presents the stories of various individuals as fine as intriguing plots of famous novels. You’d never want to put the book down.
About the Author
Charles Duhigg is an American Journalist and a former news reporter for The New York Times. Duhigg was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting in 2013. Born in New Mexico, the 48-year-old writer graduated from Yale University and completed his MBA from Harvard Business School. Other than The New York Times, Duhigg has also worked with Los Angeles Times. Currently, he writes for various publications, including The New Yorker Magazine.
The Power Habit: Why We Do What We Do, and How to Change (2012) was Duhigg’s debut book, which turned out to be an international bestseller. The author’s only other book, Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business, came out in 2016.
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Noman is a literature expert, news analyst, and content creator. When not writing news and other content for clients, he likes to read novels and talk about them. Born and raised in a ghetto of Mumbai, he is vocal about the social issues facing the slums and his community. Noman is the co-founder of Bombay Reads, a platform where he likes to write and discuss books.