Jan 19, 2017

Book Review: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

Book #3 of #50booksin2017

My husband had read this book a few months back and highly recommended it. I had earlier read Nir Eyal’s “Hooked” that talked about the principles behind habit forming products, especially from a digital products perspective.

The Power of Habit” dives into the underlying psychology and neuro-science of how habits are formed. It was a fascinating read where the author talks about the influence of habits from an individual, organization and society’s point of view.

Habits emerge because the brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort. The author talks about the habit loop which has three components:
- Cue => the trigger that reminds us to go into automatic mode
- Routine => the action which could be either physical, mental or emotional
- Reward => the outcome of performing the routine

He elaborates this habit loop by using examples of how Pepsodent and Febreze’s marketing campaign efforts have leveraged this loop. It’s not just the habit loop that will help in creating new habits but there also needs to be a craving associated with the reward.
“The cue, in addition to triggering a routine must also trigger a craving for the reward to come”.

The author then goes to explain how prevailing habits can be changed.
“To change a habit, you must keep the old cue and deliver the old reward, but insert a new routine”.

A clear understanding of the triggers and cravings towards a certain reward will help us to change the routine or habit. The probability of habit change increases when you are part of a group with a common goal ; which explains the success of de-addiction groups like “Alcoholics Anonymous”.

From an organization point of view, “keystone habits” have a ripple effect or can cause a chain reaction where a small change can catapult an organization towards multiple changes. I loved the example of Alcoa where an organization transformation was made possible using keystone habits.

The chapter on willpower is my favorite, where the author talks about how willpower can become automatic.

“Willpower is the single most important keystone habit for individual success. Willpower is a muscle, that gets tired as it works harder. As the willpower muscle strengthens, good habits seemed to spill over into other parts of our lives.”

I had earlier written about willpower and how I experienced the fact that "the more you use it, it gets stronger". I had jotted down from a personal experience point of view but felt so glad to read about the research backing the same.

The subsequent chapters felt more like supplementary reading where the author elaborates in detail on
- how a crisis can help organizations understand institutional habits created through thoughtlessness/neglect and how to consciously design new habits for change
- the ethical dilemmas of predicting and manipulating habits
- the principles behind how successful movements are formed in societies - example of Montgomery Bus Boycott that led to civil rights struggle in the US
- the question on who takes ownership of our habits and the choice of exercising our free will

Though the examples were relevant, I felt a little dragging towards the last couple of chapters. Nevertheless, there were tremendous insights on habit formation and change. I took nearly 3 weeks to finish this book. Highly recommend it if you are interested in the subject. Do take the time to slowly digest it.

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