The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg is a book that describes various techniques and reasons related to our routines and lifestyles. This was Duhigg’s first book and I was eager to read it because I recently finished his second book Smarter, Faster, Better: the Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business. If I had to choose between the two books, I prefer the second due to its upbeat tone and inspiring chapters. The Power of Habit was a bit heavier and the examples he used were not as light as his later book.
What I admire about the book is how Duhigg simplified the reasons of why we make decisions subconsciously, using scientific studies in order to drive his point home. There were habits I didn’t even realize I had, but seeing it blatantly on a black and white page was a bit startling. He even gave me a layout plan for my addiction to chocolate chip cookies (ironically, we both shared a daily sweet tooth for this treat and I had been trying to figure out for weeks how to get over it).
The book is broken into three parts: individual habits, organizational habits and societal habits. Duhigg does not remain fixated on one method to embed or overcome a habit. He describes multiple techniques that one can use such as identifying a cue or pairing the new habit with something that is already familiar. Story after story caused me to learn deeper about my own habits and plainly see that I was not alone in the routines established for certain habits. He writes about companies that have manipulated the decision making of customers to increase sales. From store layouts to statistics about pregnancy prediction. The manipulation was so detailed, I began questioning the integrity of companies I had overlooked. Perhaps everyone was selling to us all 100% of the time. Were my shopping choices truly my own?
Duhigg shows how habits that make up a group or society can either benefit or destroy not only those involved, but those who are outside of that culture. The best example he uses is the King’s Cross Fire, a chapter that almost made me stop reading the book due to its depressing nature. This chapter inspired me to watch two documentaries about the fire. Duhigg’s theory about the ultimate cause of the fire being the culmination of the habits of particular groups of people seemed ridiculous at first. But the more I read about the fire, the more I agreed with him. There were so many acts that could have prevented the fire such as putting the out the small fire while it was still tiny or cleaning the slime that had been accumulating beneath the escalator for decades. Our personal habits may help or harm not only ourselves, but other people. That is why we must create healthy habits for the good of us all.
If one had to choose which of Duhigg’s books to suggest to another, I believe that the second book is similar in its power but a happier read. Therefore, I recommend reading the second book first. With the second book, I was slightly annoyed with the notes and the appendix in the back of the book. I found it unnecessary. However, with this book, the additions were actually helpful. The appendix was an excellent review and allowed me to gain clarity about what I had already read.
I recommend this book for those who are struggling with forming new habits or deleting old ones. I especially believe it would be a great gift for teenagers, college students and individuals who manage teams. To learn more about Charles Duhigg, you can visit his website at www.charlesduhigg.com