The Power Of Habit By Charles Duhigg

Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business

Updated: November 1, 2022 Reading Time: 8 minutes rating: 9


The Power Of Habit uncovers the mysteries behind our habits. Habits are what make most of our daily lives yet until recently not much was known about them. As this book explains, there are clear patterns that all habits share: a cue and rewards loop that makes some people exercise and makes other people drink or gamble every day.

Duhigg explains how this mechanism works giving real life examples of gamblers and alcoholics, and even gives some explanations as to why certain civic movements are successful while others fail, all this citing and explaining recent and relevant research in areas such as neuroscience and psychology.

All in all, I really enjoyed this book and completely changed the way I think about habits. I am now more mindful about them and always try to change them and make better choices.

Notes and Highlights

“All our life, so far as it has definite form, is but a mass of habits.” — William James

…a community was a giant collection of habits occurring among thousands of people that, depending on how they’re influenced, could result in violence or peace.

If you picture the human brain as an onion, composed of layer upon layer of cells, then the outside layers —those closest to the scalp— are generally the most recent additions from an evolutionary perspective.

Deeper inside the brain and closed to the brain stem — where the brain meets the spinal column— are older, more primitive structures. Thy control our automatic behaviors, such as breathing and swallowing, or the startle response we feel when someone leaps out from behind a bush.

As each rat learned how to navigate the maze, its mental activity decreased. As the route became more and more automatic, each rat started thinking less and less.

Habits, scientist say, emerge because the brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort.

…the fries, for instance are designed to being disintegrating the moment they hit your tongue, in order to deliver a hit of salt and grease as fast as possible, causing your pleasure centers to light up and your brain to lock in the pattern

Research on dieting says creating new food habits requires a predetermined cue — such as planning menus in advance — and simple rewards for dieters when they stick to their intentions.

Cinnabon tries to locate their stores away from other food stalls. Why? Because Cinnabon executives want the smell of cinnamon rolls to waft down hallways and around corners uninterrupted, so that shoppers will start subconsciously craving a roll.

“I work hard because I expect pride from a discovery. I exercise because I expect feeling good afterward. I just wish I could pick and choose better.”

If you use the same cue, and provide the same reward, you can shift the routine and change the habit.

I knew that if something didn’t change, I was going to kill my kids. So I started working at that, working at believing in something bigger than me. And it’s working. I don’t know if it’s God or something else, but there is a power that has helped me stay sober for seven years now and I’m in awe of it.

We do know that for habits to permanently change, people must believe that change is feasible. The same process that makes AA so effective — the power of a group to teach individuals how to believe — happens whenever people come together to help one another change. Belief is easier when it occurs within a community.

Some habits, in other words, matter more than others in remaking businesses and lives. These are “keystone habits”, and they can influence how people work, eat play, live, spend, and communicate. Keystone habits start a process that, over time, transforms everything.

When people start habitually exercising, even as infrequently as once a week, they start changing other, unrelated patterns in their lives, often unknowingly.

For many people, exercise is a keystone habit that triggers widespread change.

Starbucks has taught him how to live, how to focus, how to get to work on time, and how to master his emotions. Most crucially, it has taught him willpower.

Describing Starbucks trainee program. This is a system that one should probably study to understand how to create value not only for your customers but also for your employees and do good.

Self-discipline has a bigger effect on academic performance than does intellectual talent.

Willpower isn’t just a skill. It’s a muscle, like the muscles in your arms or legs, and it gets tired as it works harder, so there’s less power left over for other things.

As people strengthened their willpower muscles in one part of their lives — in the gym, or a money management program — the strength spilled over into what they ate or how hard they worked.

The patients' plans were built around inflection points when they knew their plan —and thus the temptation to quit— would be strongest.

…If they feel like they have no autonomy, if they’re just following orders, their willpower muscles get tired much faster…

Giving employees a sense of control improved how much self-discipline they brought to their jobs.

Just as choosing the right keystone habits can create amazing change, the wrong ones can create disaster.

It may seem like most organizations make rational choices based on deliberate decision making, but that’s not really how companies operate at all. Instead, firms are guided by long-held organizational habits, patterns that often emerge from thousands of employees' independent decisions. And these habits have more profound impacts than anyone previously understood.

Companies aren’t families. They’re battlefields in a civil war.

Sometimes, one priority — or one department or one person or one goal — needs to overshadow everything else, though it might be unpopular or threaten a balance of power that keeps trains running on time.

Crises are so valuable, in fact, that sometimes it’s worth stirring up a sense of looming catastrophe rather than letting it die down.

A company with dysfunctional habits can’t turn around simply because a leader orders it. Rather, wise executives seek out moments of crisis — or create the perception of a crisis — and cultivate the sense that something must change, until everyone is finally ready to overhaul the patterns they live with each day.

if we start our shopping sprees by loading up on healthy stuff, we’re much more likely to buy Doritos, Oreos and frozen pia when we encounter them later on.

“People listen to Top 40 because they want to hear their favorite songs or songs that sound just like their favorite songs. When something different comes on, they’re offended. They don’t want anything unfamiliar.”

…listening habits exist because, without them, it would be impossible to determine if we should concentrate on our child’s voice, the coach’s whistle, or the noise from a busy street during a Saturday soccer game.

To date, the only government program ever to cause a lasting change in the American diet was the organ meat push of the 1940s.

During WWII there was a shortage of protein (meat) in the American Market so the government decided to start a program to make people eat animals' organs and not only their meat. That is supposedly how americans started eating kidneys, livers, etc.

Social habits are why some initiatives become world-changing movements, while others fail to ignite.

…in landing a job, Granovetter discovered, weak-tie acquaintances were often more important than strong-tie friends because weak ties give us access to social networks where we don’t otherwise belong.

On a playground, peer pressure is dangerous. In adult life, it’s how business gets done and communities self-organize.

“Gambling"is the child of avarice, the brother of iniquity and the father of mischief” — George Washington

Society, as embodied by our courts and juries, has agreed that some habits are so powerful that they overwhelm our capacity to make choices, and thus we’re not responsible for what we do

This is in reference to a famous case where a husband killed a wife while sleepwalking. The husband was absolved and declared “not-guilty”

It’s unclear if problem gamblers' brains are different because they are born that way of if sustained exposure to slot machines, online poker, and casinos can change how the brain functions. What is clear is that real neurological differences impact how pathological gamblers process information.

“The behaviors that occur unthinkingly are the evidence of our truest selves.” — Aristotle

…almost all the other patterns that exist in most people’s lives —how we eat and sleep and talk to our kids how we unthinkingly spend our time, attention and money—those are habits that we know exist. And once you understand that habits can change, you have the freedom —and the responsibility— to remake them. Once you understand that habits can be rebuilt, the power of habit becomes easier to grasp, and the only option left is to get to work.

The will to believe is the most important ingredient in creating belief in change.

If you believe you can change —if you make it a habit— the change becomes real. This is the real power of habit: the insight that your habits are what you choose them to be. Once that choice occurs —and becomes automatic— it’s not only real, it starts to seem inevitable, the things, as James wrote, that bears “us irresistible toward our destiny, whatever the latter may be”.