The Power Of Habit Summary
The Economist magazine calls this a “first-rate” business book and I agree. Charles Duhigg tells of people – individuals, businesses, and other organizations – who carry out routines and act on habits in recurrent situations. The book puts a spotlight on people who succeed at shedding some habits and bringing new ones to life – in themselves and in people around them. In these pages lie a powerful concept and illustrative stories.
Habits can be efficient. When a habit is activated, we don’t have to think so much about all the steps and breaths we take. Habits can be simple or more complex, making short work of such activities as: brushing one’s teeth while thinking about the workday ahead; driving a car while listening to the radio; or tending to customers, fielding their requests, and responding routinely in a warm, appreciative manner. Routines can do a lot of good when it comes to maintaining desirable habits. But things can get challenging when we would like a habit to be changed.
A big part of the value in this book is its parade of human stories about how people have succeeded in replacing old habits with new ones. There are a few stories, too, about people who tried but failed to change a bad habit. Along the way, the author sketches a do-it-yourself model. He talks about people identifying existing “habit loops” which may include external triggers of time, place, people, and situations. Then, the idea is to interrupt and redirect activity toward the desired goals, eventually forming new habits.
In some examples, small “wins” are shown leading to bigger wins as people build skills and confidence in new ways of doing things. And in stories of organizational or cultural habits, positive changes are shown sometimes to set off a ripple effect, where new habits spread to more people in a kind of social contagion.
Charles Duhigg is a New York Times journalist and a graduate of Harvard Business School. He draws together a sampling of psychological research and real-life examples in business and other organizational endeavors. “The Power of Habit” delivers Duhigg’s report in the form of a book full of good stories about people who exemplify the concept of “habit” in action, including direct interviews with some of the players in the stories. With this Duhigg presents a psychological concept of habits that a general audience might apply in everyday business and personal life. This book, if it reaches a large readership, may follow in the grooves of what journalist and psychologist Daniel Goleman’s books did to popularize “emotional intelligence” and “EQ.” (Goleman focuses on business applications of emotional intelligence in his 1998 book, Working with Emotional Intelligence .)
Duhigg’s stories are interesting in their own right, easy to understand, and memorable. They run the gamut from sports to neurosurgery, and from marketing toothpaste to overhauling the managerial culture of a heavy industrial corporation.
For example, chapter 2 “The Craving Brain: How to Create New Habits,” showcases breakthroughs in consumer marketing (and in one case, the dental health of a whole society) connected to habit changes. The examples cover a variety of marketing obstacles and breakaway solutions including Pepsodent toothpaste, Schlitz beer, and Febreze household deodorizer.
Chapter 5, “Starbucks and the Habit of Success: When Willpower Becomes Automatic,” talks about staff training programs that have been credited with enhancing customer service and tuning up whole organizational cultures. Examples besides Starbucks include Deloitte Consulting and the Container Store.
Perhaps the most colorful and intriguing business story in the book is about the managerial successes of Paul O’Neill when he was CEO of the aluminum company Alcoa. (He later went on to serve as U.S. Treasury Secretary.) This is told mostly in Chapter 4, “Keystone Habits, or the Ballad of Paul O’Neill: Which Habits Matter Most.” When O’Neill became CEO of Alcoa in 1987, he spearheaded the company on a headlong drive to achieve an error-free standard of employee safety. He rallied employees up and down the hierarchy, and across functions, to the cause of becoming “the safest company in America… [despite that]… employees work with metals that are 1500 degrees and can rip a man’s arm off.” (p. 98)
At first, Alcoa’s investors and employees alike were skeptical, seeing O’Neill’s radical quest for superiority in employee safety as too narrow, quixotic, and off-center. O’Neill conceived of the safety charge as a focal point that would trigger all sorts of changes in routines and habits of accountability throughout the company. Preventing employee injuries became a “keystone habit” in Duhigg’s lingo, that would set off a ripple effect leading to an upswing in total corporate performance.
It worked. Within a year, Alcoa’s profits reached an all-time high. Over a 13-year run with O’Neill at the helm, profits and the stock price both increased by 400%. Time lost to worker injuries declined to one-twentieth the U.S. average. Duhigg’s book cites interviews with O’Neill himself and other Alcoa people who were there and mentions that Alcoa stands as a case study in business schools.
“The Power of Habit” shines a bright light on organizational habits, but not only that. Duhigg serves up stories that point to individual habits, with relevance for personal success, such as interrupting a snacking habit or ending addictions. I see Duhigg’s concept of habit loops as compatible with and complementary to the work of food and marketing psychologist Brian Wansink in his excellent book, Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think (2006). At the other end of the scale, Duhigg talks about habits changing at a societal level of attitudes and behavior, offering an analysis of the civil rights movement’s Montgomery bus boycott as an example.
The one disappointment I find is a lack of chapter summaries and sub-chapter headings. While the book certainly is accessible “as is,” such aids would make it easier to tie together diverse examples, remember themes and links, and go back to them later. The Audible.com version in particular is harder going without summaries and sub-headings because one is not looking at pages with the chapter heading in the upper right, nor is the listener just a page flip away from glancing at the book’s table of contents. The Audible.com version also could do a better job of mentioning the printed book’s many visual diagrams for listeners who are interested enough to cross-refer.
The book begins and ends with fitting references to the 19th-century writings of an American philosopher and psychologist, William James, who elucidated the concept of habit before there was much science behind it. James was a prime mover in establishing two major streams of modern social science and philosophy: 1.) behavioral psychology – that is, putting a scientific focus on observable behavior and developing interventions to help people shape their lives according to their better ideals, and 2.) the philosophy of pragmatism – which for James meant evaluating scientific theories according to their “cash value.” In James’s pragmatist view, a good theory is one that does good work in the minds of those who use it.
James saw “habit,” like Duhigg does, as a core aspect of human nature. Duhigg draws attention to success stories in habit replacement, from dental hygiene to aluminum manufacture. In keeping with the philosophical pulse of James the pragmatist, I give Duhigg’s “The Power of Habit” a five-star rating for its eye-opening reports on useful research, chock full of real-world examples. Plus the book is written in a style that is vivid and inviting.
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The Power Of Habits Table OF content
Charles Duhigg created a great book. A book that places a framework or foundation as to how our mind works within a part of our behavior: habits. Each chapter within the book brings new features of the elements of how habits works.
- Chapter 1: Addresses the nature of how habits work if they were not able to be changed by illustrating a patient that cannot change their own habits due to some mental malfunction. This chapter is basically an appetizer for people to get more interested in the nature of how habit works, but for the hardcore minded, it also addresses a lot of philosophical questions about the nature of habits.
- Chapter 2: Illustrates that habits cannot be created without a reward within. Most of the habits in here illustrate of concrete nature which most of the average individual is only used to. It is definitely missing abstract rewards, such as the nature of understanding and piecing things together (i.e. using this book as a framework to replace bad habits with good habits), a craving scientists quench all day to get that dopamine rush. Abstract rewards get covered much better within the book “the structure of scientific revolutions” by Thomas Kuhn.
- Chapter 3: Discusses the topic of substituting habits that can achieve the same reward. It also discusses that overwhelming emotions can overwhelm habits to act on our cues and requires very strong faith to not become influenced by it. This correlates much with chapter 8, which discusses external ties, which represent Maslow’s lower version of esteem. Instead, we should replace it with a higher version of self-esteem, which represents foundations independent of social ties. In contrast, what we see here is a fight between two overwhelming emotions, one with the crowd in the stadium and the event’s importance, another with the bad news of the coach, the latter being more overwhelming, making the Colts win the game. If there is no foundations, then whatever strongly overwhelms us can aid or fight against our own habits.
- Chapter 4: Here shows that acknowledging an implicit habit and transforming it into an explicit habit results in other habits that are associated with to also change itself as well too. It seems when we see habits explicitly, in an empirical form, the more we are aware to differentiate and classify the difference between old and new habits.
- Chapter 5: This Chapter talks about how creating a plan for a new habit to replace an old habit makes it more likely we will act on the new habit.
- Chapter 6: When failure shows that we have to replace an old habit with a new habit, this gives us the ability to either use the solutions discussed on Chapter 5 or instead just ignore and live with our old habits. The book Black Box Thinking by Matthew Syed dedicates the whole topic on this chapter alone. So if you are interested, I recommend reading that book.
- Chapter 7: All previous chapters discussed how to change an old habit with a new habit “from our own self”. What happens if we “influence someone else” to change a habit? Then doing it in a straightforward way will create emotional pain. When we do something that is not relevant, or not a habit to ourselves, we don’t “expect a reward” when we see the cue. In contrast, we see the reward immediately when the actual reward emerges. Habits in contrast expect a specific reward from the start of the cue, it expects a consistent input. Habits can be engulfed through our beliefs and values. For that reason in this use case, we try to not emerge the cue with inconsistent input, such as violating privacy laws, as that will create emotional pain.
- Chapter 8: This book really feels that it talks about Maslow’s Self Esteem between low motives which are tied with low ties and high motives which are tied with foundations that make you independent of low ties, such as reading this book’s framework and using it to fix existing habits instead having a psychotherapist to always depend for fixing them for you. Low ties are illustrated here with friends of friends. But there is another way to create low ties: clothes. The book “Mind what you wear” by Professor Karen J Pine details it.
- Chapter 9: Using the reference of chapter 8, we see that we have a choice whether we should submit to low ties created by the manipulation of our habits by the use of marketing made by companies or become independent by using foundations such as this book in order to not succumb upon them. This Chapter’s story alone is just worth it for every marketer to read. It touches on the topics of ethics, and how so many companies are tunnel visioned on creating a less socially responsible world.
I think these concepts are hard to understand without reading the examples within the book. It is a great read and it will influence your life dramatically, trust me. I just have to give all my gratitude to Charles Duhigg for creating a comprehensive book that successfully became one of the top best sellers books. That means if I want to talk to someone about the brain, if chances they have read this book, then I can use that as a reference to discuss other topics that they are unfamiliar with something they are familiar with.
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