Book review: The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg

Power of Habit

I raced in one of those triathlon’s recently where you register and put your stuff in transition at 5:30am and then, because it is in a swimming pool, have to sit around for literally hours until your slot opens up. I had over 400 people ahead of me. I took a grown up ‘work book’ The Power of Habit and a fun chick lit book for when it got boring. I never opened the Chick Lit book and nearly missed my start.

I was enthralled. The Power of Habit is really well researched – as it should be Duhigg studied at Harvard and Yale and has won a Pulitzer Prize for journalism. It is full of academic studies but written really accessibly. He has that talent of a comedian, not in that the book is funny but that he cleverly storytells by setting the scene with a real life situation and the behaviours displayed within that situation. He then looks at some of the research around it (but not in a lecturing, referencing way) and meanders through the ideals and the trip hazards and sneakily brings you back to the original situation, almost as a punchline.

He explains the neuroscience behind habits and how they work, why we need them to function and how we can change them, usually one at a time, so we can be more effective, more successful, healthier or happier. Some of the easiest to understand neuroscience explanations I’ve read and watched lately focus on disease (i.e. where something breaks down in our day to day healthy functioning) as this so effectively explains how the function works when healthy and shows the significant differences when broken. Duhigg uses this element really well. It makes the case studies relatable and helps you put yourself in a similar perspective.

I love that he didn’t just read the literature, find some case studies and pull together an argument like so many self-help books do, Duhigg clearly tackled this manuscript with the eye of an investigative journalist. He’s talked to so many experts and been able to transfer their passion and enthusiasm for their findings and experiences onto the page. There are so many stories of real-life people and real-life companies you see the points he is making truly put into action. There is theory here but it is all shown in action and that makes it much more transferable into real life; our real lives.

What I really liked about this book is that whatever habits you are looking to change you can; it isn’t focused on athletes, or business people, or those struggling with performance or relationships. The stories are wide and varied enough (they include Starbucks training, record companies designing hit singles, Target knowing you are pregnant way before you announce it, gambling addictions, blue collar safety and sporting success) that you can see in each element how you could use the knowledge yourself. My favourite element was actually around the way businesses manipulate us by understanding our decision making and habits around buying.  It will make you think about your own habits and reflect on how much other people are manipulating you by understanding them. If we understand our own habit loops we can have that power too.

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